Chris Hass: Supporting faculty and helping UF feel like home

On Aug. 1, Chris Hass became UF’s associate provost for Academic and Faculty Affairs. Prior to that, he served as a professor and graduate coordinator in the Department of Applied Physiology and Kinesiology in the College of Health and Human Performance and as an affiliate research faculty member in the Center for Movement Disorders and Neurorestoration.

As associate provost, Hass serves as a member of the UF provost’s administrative team, overseeing the university’s tenure and promotion process, leading university-level faculty development efforts and managing faculty personnel issues including policy and processes.

When Hass joined UF from Columbia University in 2006, he was not new to the Gator Nation. He completed his graduate degrees at UF, which included his doctorate in biomechanics and master’s in exercise physiology.

Most recently, as the director of the Applied Neuromechanics Lab — one of the most dynamic clinical-research programs in Parkinson’s disease and movement disorders in the country — Hass and his team have been focused on the primary disabling features of Parkinson’s disease, patients’ walking and balance capabilities.

UF at Work recently sat down with Hass to learn more.

Why were you interested in this position?

As a faculty member, you’re told, usually at very formal events, that the faculty are the cornerstone to a great university. I feel like this position provides a really tangible means to support that statement, as well as a tangible means of helping faculty become the best versions of themselves. I want this to be our faculty’s last job.

This position provides an opportunity to participate in the ever-changing role and life of faculty members, whether it’s supporting and welcoming them when they’re first here or creating programming that better evaluates their teaching abilities so that we can provide resources to enhance their teaching. Or by creating programming that helps them be more successful in their research or developing them as leaders within the university and their field. I really felt like, of all the positions available in academic administration, this is really one that allows you to serve the faculty over the course of their career.

Ultimately, as a graduate of the university and a member of the faculty, this place is really special to me, and I’m finding that this position affords me the ability to help make it special for everyone. If I’m doing my job appropriately, every time Century Tower tolls or we sing “Alma Mater,” people should get goosebumps. That’s my goal in this position — to be the creator of goosebumps.

What made you want to return to UF back in 2006?

When I was a graduate student and my wife [UF Vice President and General Counsel Amy Hass] was a professional student here, it was one of the best times in our lives. The university invested in me and gave me the skills to be a successful scientist. So when a position opened up, it was a no-brainer for me. For what I do, UF is one of the best places in the world.

When I got here, the resources were in place for me to be successful as a teacher and as a scientist. And really, over the next 12 years, that was my job — to be the best teacher and scientist I could be. Early on, I was focused internally on doing good science, seeking external funding and being exceptional in the classroom. In some respects, I had blinders on, and whatever was happening at the university or department level felt ancillary to me trying to be successful in the roles I was given.

Then about five years ago, I started paying much more attention to those around me. I started looking outside my laboratory at what was in the best interest of the department and university. I really felt like our group was successful because of the collaborations we had and what the university provided for us, so I really tried to pay more attention to how I could help others. Over those five years, I would say ‘yes’ to any opportunity I was provided where I could serve the university. Because of that, I was really able to understand the uniqueness of different colleges and scholarship across different units. So, unbeknownst to me, I was training for this job because I do get the privilege of working with in-unit faculty, out-of-unit faculty, colleagues in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, physician-scientists in the College of Medicine and many others.

What are some of your priorities for the year ahead?

Over the next year-and-a-half, we’ll be piloting and instituting a new course evaluation system, which will be running in fall 2019. It will be the result of a collaboration of two years among Faculty Affairs, Student Affairs and the Faculty Senate. The goal is to have an evaluation system that provides meaningful information geared toward improving teaching effectiveness. The traditional evaluation of courses has been kind of a generic evaluation of the professor. But with the questions and approach we’re using, we’ll be able to determine where we can put resources so that if a faculty member has some areas that need to be improved, we can identify them and create programming that matches those areas. In the current system, we don’t really have the ability to do that.

The next thing is onboarding of faculty and faculty development. We’re really trying to be proactive in creating a culture of inclusivity. Faculty should feel that the university is invested in them. I want to focus on ways of better making them feel part of the UF community and the Gainesville community as early as possible, as well as establishing and revising mentoring programs and programs designed to enhance research productivity and teaching effectiveness.

Will you be involved with the new UF Experience program for incoming faculty?

Yes, absolutely. With this program, we’re hoping to enhance the ways in which faculty are plugged into the university and community. For example, I’ve been here for 12 years as a faculty member and the only things I really know about the state and city are from my children. They take Florida history so I learn about the state’s history through them. We all took our own state’s history when we were in school, but as an adult, the more I know about a place, the more it feels like home. This program will hopefully create a sense of home and belonging for new faculty. The plan is to have community speakers come in and for us to talk about the university’s role within the city and important issues faced by Gainesville and the county.

Can you talk about the Faculty 500 initiative and how the influx of new faculty will influence your work?

One thing that I think is important for all of us to recognize is that this is roughly 10 percent of our faculty coming on board, and that doesn’t count the individuals who we’re replacing because they left for other opportunities. So we’re looking at potentially 600 new faculty two years from now, and I think it’s really important for us as a university at this time to be on the same page and to be discussing the culture of the university; what it means to be a faculty member here; what our ideals, hopes and aspirations are; and how to interact with each other so that we’re all successful. Every faculty member here contributes to the university mission, and not one is better than the other. Helping the new faculty merge with the other 4,500 faculty who are already here so we can build those bonds of commonality is vital. If we don’t spend time in the next couple of years building and supporting the culture we want to see, we will all be more siloed. It will be more “me” and less “we.”

What are you most looking forward to in the coming year?

When I came back to UF after living here as a student, I felt like the university had made remarkable strides in those five years. It was a different intellectual place. In the past month, I’ve been so impressed by everyone I’ve been able to interact with. The university has a lot of really good people in the right positions to allow UF to excel and to facilitate faculty success. There’s not a better time than right now for this position from what I can see. I’m really excited about working with the people I’ve been meeting and the new hires, like Chief Diversity Officer Antonio Farias. I am so excited to work with him on initiatives together, as well as many others.

At times in the past, universities have struggled with this mindset of “stay in your lane,” but the number of times and number of conversations I’ve had in the past month where we remind each other that there’s one lane and it’s the University of Florida — that’s been remarkable. If we’re all doing our jobs to the best of our abilities with the interest of elevating the university, we can be very successful.