5 questions with… Provost and Executive Vice President W.A. “Bud” Baeslack III

Photo of Provost William A. “Bud” Baeslack IIIThe lecture focused on materials science and engineering.

But the student wanted an answer on another topic. “Why is the cost of the new residence hall so high?”

Such is the lot of a faculty member who also has an administrative role—particularly when the position is among the most prominent in the university.

But after nearly two decades of juggling duties, W.A. “Bud” Baeslack III had a ready answer:

“That’s a question for Provost Baeslack. He’s over in Adelbert Hall—and I am sure he would be pleased to meet with you,” he told her with a smile. “Now, are there any questions for Professor Baeslack?”

Starting this summer, though, he’ll be able to concentrate more completely on academics.

“Being 10 years here as provost, I definitely felt it was time to move to something else,” Provost Baeslack said. “I enjoy teaching and research—and I still have scholarly writing and many other things I want to do.”

Baeslack first began his research on the fundamental science behind welding and joining of advanced aerospace materials as an officer and materials engineer at the Air Force Research Laboratory, publishing many articles during his military service.

It was the plans of the Air Force to move him into higher administrative roles that initially drove Baeslack from his work with the Air Force and toward higher education.

“At the time I knew that I really wanted to do research and teach and not spend time as an administrator,” Provost Baeslack said. “That lasted for awhile, but then eventually, I was drawn back into leadership.”

While at The Ohio State University, Baeslack served as a faculty member, department chair, associate dean for research and interim vice president of research. He took a five-year “sabbatical” from OSU and served as dean of the School of Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute before returning to OSU as dean of Engineering, working for Ohio State’s then-newly appointed provost, Barbara R. Snyder.

In those roles, Baeslack always found time to teach, conduct research with his graduate students and serve in an administrative capacity.

“Universities give you the ability to continue to do all of those things,” Provost Baeslack said. “Until I came here and my time to conduct research kind of dissipated quickly.”

During his time as provost and executive vice president at Case Western Reserve, Baeslack has had a profound impact on the institution. He helped build an effective and successful team of leaders and oversaw implementation of strategic plan that helped the university advance in several key areas, including admissions and internationalization.

“It’s been a privilege to serve here,” Provost Baeslack said, “and to work with [President Snyder] and with an outstanding leadership team, dedicated faculty and great students and staff. Time has gone by so quickly!”

To honor the time Provost Baeslack has spent shaping the university, a reception will be held Wednesday, May 16, from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Tinkham Veale University Center ballroom.

Before the event, make sure to take a look at Provost Baeslack’s answers to this week’s five questions.

1. In addition to your official role as provost, we understand that you also have the informal title of “chief meteorologist.” Can you explain a little bit about how you got that title?

One of my unusual responsibilities as provost became tracking weather conditions. When the weather reports indicate snow or extreme cold we have a 5 a.m. phone call with the leadership team to determine whether we will delay or cancel classes. Not long after I arrived, somehow, I ended up—probably because of my own interest and because I felt responsible in some sense—doing the weather analysis and preparation used by the group for making its decisions. I watch the weather reports, checking all of the news sites, consolidate the key data and then ultimately provide that information to help the team in the wee hours of the morning. It has been fun doing it … sorry that the weather this past winter didn’t cooperate in terms of snow days!

2. I understand that you’re an Indians fan as well. How long have you followed the team? Is it true that you got a hit off Bob Feller?

I grew up in Cleveland and went to games when I was a kid, and then in high school I worked (for $1.30/hour) at the old stadium. Even when I was away from Cleveland I  always followed them. I still collect Indians baseball cards, always have.

I also have gone to Indians Fantasy Camp a couple of times. You play baseball for a week with other “old guys” at the Indians spring training facility with former Indians players as your managers … On the last day of Fantasy Camp each team played the former pros for three innings. The first time I went to Camp in Winter Haven, Florida, (the late Indians’ great) Bob Feller was still playing, and he actually pitched to the first three batters every inning. I was the No. 3 batter, and got up against “Bullet Bob.” The catcher instructed me to pull the ball down the third base line, so I did—and got a base hit. Although the 84-year-old Hall-of-Famer lost some velocity over the years, it was a special moment, especially with my mom and dad watching in the stands.

3. You’ve always been a supporter of the Spartan athletics, but you’ve had a particular interest in the football team over the past four years. Why was that?

Jacob [Burke], my grandson, is an economics major and has played on our football team the past four years. He began as a punter and then moved to starting running back, and has had a couple of amazing seasons, as have the Spartans. It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to have him here as a student athlete. He’s graduating this semester … it’s been fun having him here on campus and watching him grow, mature and develop at our great university—I am obviously very proud of him.

Our football team had a great season last fall. Between having the team be so successful and watching Jacob score touchdowns (and more importantly stay healthy!) has made my final year as provost a special one. We’re going to miss watching him this fall, that’s for sure. That said, the president’s box at games will be much quieter without his biggest fan—my wife, Shelley—cheering him on.

[President Snyder] and I, perhaps in part due to our previous roles at OSU have been actively engaged in athletics, and we both highly value the student-athlete experience and Division III sports.

As you know, one of the goals of our strategic plan is to see the school spirit continue to improve. We’re never going to be a Michigan or Ohio State in terms of the “rah-rah” sports stuff—that’s not who we are. We’re an intellectually driven and intellectually diverse community, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have great school sprit around our athletic teams and many other activities.

4. Your faculty appointment is in materials science and engineering and we understand that you’ve done some teaching more recently. What have you taught, and what’s it like to be back in the classroom?

It’s a course on the materials science aspects of materials joining. I co-teach it with a research engineer at Lincoln Electric. I’ve enjoyed working with the students. It’s a junior-senior course. Even though I’m probably the only teacher who wears a suit to class, it’s worked out really well. I’ve had fun with it. The students usually don’t treat me as provost; they treat me as professor in the class.

I think the students have really enjoyed the class and have found it to be really valuable with some having gone on to get jobs in the field of materials joining.

5. Are there any particular research projects or areas of research you’d like to get back to or explore?

I want to continue my work on joining advanced materials. There is also a relatively new field of called additive manufacturing, which is based, in many ways, on materials joining technologies. My specific work is in the joining of titanium and advanced aerospace materials, so I look forward to applying some of that science and engineering knowledge to advance additive manufacturing processes.