Farzeen Foda

Senior News Editor


From the Department of Engineering at the prestigious Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Illene Busch-Vishniac came to McMaster University in 2007 to serve as Provost.

Now in her fifth year on the job, she has declined to pursue a subsequent term in the position. As McMaster president Patrick Deane announced in an Oct. 28 email to McMaster faculty and staff, her term as Provost will end on June 30, 2012.

The Provost will not be leaving the University, but will instead focus on her role as professor and researcher. “One of the other hats I wear is a tenured full professor in the department of Mechanical Engineering,” said a humble Busch-Vishniac.

During her time in the job, Busch-Vishniac worked in collaboration with students and faculty to improve the quality of the educational experience offered at McMaster. Such initiatives include the revitalization of the Centre for Leadership and Learning (CLL), as well as work with UTS (University Technology Services) to ease course registration for students.

“Already, the fine work of the new UTS leadership team has improved the registration experience for students, though we still have a long way to go,” said Busch-Vishniac.

Efforts of behalf of UTS successfully made the process slightly smoother this year compared to previous years, but a more effective and permanent arrangement has yet to be put in place.

After course registration, the issue of study space on campus resurfaced. Student concerns about available study space on campus were relayed to University administration, and as Provost, Busch-Vishniac helped to mobilize funding and resources to increase study space through a collaborative effort with the University’s libraries.

Efforts to increase study space on campus will be ongoing and constantly evolving to meet the needs of the changing classroom.

In his recent letter to the University, Deane outlined three key themes that should direct the course of the University in coming years.

Busch-Vishniac has been a part of the University’s visioning, and would like to leave the letter’s goals to her successor for guidance.

“These themes are improving the undergraduate learning experience in an era of constrained finances, maintaining our research excellence, and engaging the community in our important work,” said Busch-Vishniac.

“Once I complete my term as Provost, I will take a special research leave to help me return to my research and to teaching. In particular, I am very excited that the work my collaborators and I have done since 2005 has led to significant worldwide interest in controlling the noise in hospitals,” she explained.

The hospital noises are disruptive, but their potentially harmful effects have often been dismissed. “It doesn’t kill anyone, so who cares,” has been the prevailing view on the matter according to Busch-Vishniac, noting that, in fact, it has been suggested that patients exposed to noise do not recover as quickly.

Her research in 2005 at Johns Hopkins Hospital sparked some discussion, as it is highly unusual for a hospital to allow research to be published on the potentially harmful effects its practices might be having on patients. Nonetheless, the university supported the research. “Now it is becoming important, and I want to be a part of that,” said Busch-Vishniac.

While focusing on her research, Busch-Vishniac will also continue her role as professor in the department of Mechanical Engineering at McMaster. Prior to her role as Provost at McMaster, she was dean of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, a very rare position for a woman. “When I was hired as dean of engineering at Johns Hopkins, I was the third woman who was the dean of an accredited engineering school in the United States. I don’t think there were any in Canada at the time,” said Busch-Vishniac.

The search for next year’s Provost is currently underway. But before her term ends, Busch-Vishniac aims to wrap up some of the loose ends and secure some of the projects that are in their beginning phases at the time. “My goals are very simple,” she said, “I would like to ensure that the work we have begun on IT systems renewal is moving along well, that the development of a new budget model is complete … and begin implementation of [Patrick Deane’s] plans for strategic enrolment growth at the undergraduate and graduate level.”

Sporting what she refers to as a “goofy grin,” Busch-Vishniac said, “My home is here, my heart is here, so when I finish being Provost, I will be taking my leave here.”


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