Dr. Lance Askildson was vice-provost and chief international officer at one of Georgia’s largest universities when he went looking for a new opportunity. He had one major criterion: he wanted to work at an institution that lived a strong social justice mission—and didn’t just pay lip service to it.
He found that institution at Chaminade University of Honolulu.
On July 1, Askildson officially started as Chaminade’s new provost—and was quickly buried under a tower of lei. In a recent interview, he joked that the showering of aloha made it tough to stand up straight.
“I had so many lei on,” he said, “I feared I would fall over if I bent down to pick something up.”
Askildson said he’s been touched by the warm welcome, but also recognizes change is never easy. His predecessor—Dr. Helen Whippy—retired after holding the position for just under six years.
“Although no one has truly voiced this to me directly,” Askildson told Chaminade Quarterly, “I suspect there is some trepidation with the change in leadership in the Provost’s Office.”
That’s why a major focus of what he’ll be doing during his first six months as Chaminade’s chief academic officer is what he calls “active listening,” speaking to just about everyone he can—from students to professors and staff to community members—to better understand the university’s unique opportunities and potential challenges.
“I am trying to be very accessible and open so everyone can get to know me a bit better and see that my values and vision align very well with the values and vision of the Chaminade ‘ohana,” he said.
Above all, he added, he feels honored to be a part of a “transformative institutional mission.”
Askildson comes to Chaminade from Kennesaw State University, a public institution with two metro Atlanta campuses and 35,000 students. In addition to serving as vice-provost, he held a tenured faculty position in applied linguistics, and made certain to teach at least one course a semester.
Over 15 years in higher education, Askildson has also held leadership and academic roles at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Arizona. At Notre Dame, he was an assistant provost in addition to founding and heading up the institution’s Center for the Study of Languages & Cultures.
Askildson has also published extensively in academic journals as an interdisciplinary scholar of second-language acquisition, served as principal investigator for a long list of funded research projects, and is active in the field’s professional organizations, including the International Association for Language Learning Technology.
Askildson’s applied linguistics lens has come in handy since moving to the islands as he seeks to learn more about Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander culture and language.
Askildson’s wife, Virginie, also has an extensive academic background in linguistics (and the couple speak French at home with their eight-year-old son).
While Askildson officially started in his position in July, he began dropping by campus shortly after arriving on island to meet with leadership, professors, students and others. On one occasion, he had the chance to swing by a ceremony for those who completed the university’s certified nurse aide training institute.
The program included Chaminade students, those from other universities and healthcare workers seeking additional credentials.
What Askildson was struck by was what they all—independently—agreed on. Chaminade’s social service mission is more than just words, they told him; it’s lived—through the curriculum, through the university’s programs, through the students themselves.
Askildson said that commitment to service—and to building better communities—not only drew him to Chaminade, but continues to excite him about what the future holds.
“I moved myself and my family halfway across the world—sold all of our major possessions, purchased a home and started a new life in Honolulu—because I believe in this institution, its people and its leadership,” Askildson said.
“I am ‘all in’ with Chaminade and I want people to see and know that I will be working right alongside them as we move this university forward into a bright future.”
Askildson said his priorities as provost include bolstering recruitment and retention programs, encouraging innovation across the institution and looking for ways to ensure faculty members and others have opportunities for professional development and research.
He said he sees a number of opportunities for “strategic enrollment growth”—or growth in areas that meet university and community needs.
For example, with the right outreach he believes Chaminade could strongly appeal to more non-traditional undergraduate students. And he said the university is in an excellent position to expand its graduate programs, international program and non-degree offerings.
“We need to be looking at alternative educational credentials (badges, certificates and stackable credentials toward a degree) as well as adult learners and non-traditional student populations (at least for Chaminade) such as international students, early-career professionals,” Askildson said.
He added that demographics locally and nationally make clear that Chaminade should broaden recruitment efforts to more than recent high school graduates to “thrive in this increasingly competitive environment.”
Askildson takes on Chaminade’s provost role at a time of significant flux for U.S. universities. Institutions of higher learning across the country are facing increasing pressure to make their “value proposition” clear, convincing students (and parents) that the degree is worth the money and the time.
But Chaminade is on solid footing when it comes to making that argument, Askildson said, thanks to the university’s strong liberal arts tradition, Marianist mission and comprehensive suite of supports aimed at ensuring student success.
Also on his priority list: in the coming months and years, Askildson wants to work with alumni and others to raise Chaminade’s profile locally and nationally—and promote its strong social justice mission.
But in the meantime, Askildson is embracing his new role and learning a lot along the way.
In a memo to the university community on his first official day on the job, he wrote that while he understands that he comes to Chaminade with a wealth of experience and expertise, he also sees himself as a lifelong learner “and one who is eager to grow and cultivate my skills.”
That means he intends to approach new opportunities for innovation and advancement “with a deliberate mindfulness” of Chaminade’s history and values—and how they inform day-to-day operations at the university.
“We have many opportunities and challenges before us,” he said, “and it is my intention that we will navigate these with careful discernment and a collaborative spirit.”