Bell to focus on research, recruitment as presidentBy Kelly Ward | 06/26/2015 3:13pm
Dr. Stuart Bell became the President of the University of Alabama in July, 2015.
Photo courtesy of UA Media Relations
They talked with a couple of students along the sidewalk.
“It really felt right, and it felt really good to be back on campus,” Bell said.
Bell, who was confirmed by the Board of Trustees on Thursday, June 18, as the next University of Alabama president effective July 15, spent 16 years at the University. He started as an assistant professor in mechanical engineering and worked his way up to head of the department. After 13 years away from Tuscaloosa, with stints at the University of Kansas and LSU, Bell is back.
“I have always watched Alabama, because you know their programs well and you always want the institutions you’ve been at to continue to do well, and really, Alabama has done great through the expansion programs and the leadership that took Alabama to where it is today,” Bell said. “It’s been a great story.”
Bell served as the executive vice president and provost at LSU. He was in contact about the job to succeed outgoing president Judy Bonner most of the spring semester.
The process to bring Bell to Alabama was long and brought about a difficult decision for Bell, who enjoyed his time in Baton Rouge.
He wasn’t looking to make a move when he was approached about the job. He said the opportunity was unexpected, but going through the process of learning about the position helped him make his decision.
“The more I learned about the process, the more I could see myself in that role, and it was pretty exciting,” Bell said.
At LSU, he oversaw academic, research and student programs, and the fiscal demands of these programs. He spent three years in Baton Rouge, and the University emphasized recruiting and research while Bell was provost.
While Bell was in Tuscaloosa for the Board of Trustees meeting, he met with some of the leaders of Alabama’s student body.
“Being able to interact with the students is so important because the reason I got in, I think the reason most people work with higher education, is because of the students,” Bell said. “I just love working with the students to help the students achieve their aspirations that they have for their lives.”
Bell said interacting with students isn’t something to pass the time.
“I need to have that interaction with students so we’ll continue to do that,” he said.
The University has worked to center itself on research and has expanded the campus with new additions like the engineering quad and new labs. Bell has a background in STEM research with a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering and master’s and doctoral degrees in mechanical engineering, all from Texas A&M. He said continuing to grow Alabama’s research reputation is a focus of his.
“It will be very centric to our faculty,” Bell said. “More specific than that, what I’m going to need to do is obviously go in and visit with the deans, visit with the vice president of research, see where we are, look at the strategy that we already have in place that will help us to build that, and I know there is a great interest in that by our faculty.”
Along with the approval of Bell as the next University president, the Board of Trustees approved a tuition hike of $177 per semester for in-state students and $500 a semester for out-of-state students, according to The Tuscaloosa News. The board approved a similar tuition increase last year.
“We need to work as hard as we can to keep our tuition accessible to our students,” Bell said. “Certainly, if we were to raise our tuition very high so that we didn’t have any students, we wouldn’t have a very good impact on our mission, so that’s something we need to make sure we’re being efficient, and we’re making good use of both the state dollars and the tuition dollars that the students are paying that we deliver the education.
“We’ll continue to focus on quality, focus on efficiency.”
For all of Bell’s experience at other universities – degrees from Texas A&M and work at Kansas and LSU – there’s no concern that come football season his allegiance won’t be with his current SEC school.
“My loyalties are with the students, and I really mean that,” Bell said. “I see the students, I will see our student-athletes on the sidewalks. I’ll interact with them in classrooms. I’ll interact with them in meetings and I am all Roll Tide when I show up on campus.”