Les is more


courtesy of Les Kanat

Interim Academic Dean Les Kanat

In May 2020, Professor of Environmental and Health Sciences Les Kanat retired after 31 years of teaching at NVU’s Johnson campus. Now, after a full academic year away from NVU, Kanat has returned to campus as interim academic dean.
“I was at Johnson for 31 years and loved it,” Kanat said. “It was a good run, and I had great students and some great memories, but with the pandemic and the merger and life in general, I thought it was time for a change.”
In Kanat’s time away from NVU, he focused his efforts on freelance grant-writing gigs through a group called Upwork. “I’ve had some amazing, exciting and fun freelance jobs over the past year,” Kanat noted. One of the many groups he worked with was Kaizen Food Rescue out of Denver, Colorado.
“Last year, Kaizen fed fifty-seven-thousand BIPOC families over 1.5 million pounds of food,” Kanat said, “I am so impressed with this woman [who founded the company], so I helped her write a grant proposal to help her continue to work.”
Kanat went on to detail numerous other organizations that he assisted in the grant writing process, including NeuroNav, the Saw Bus Sisters, and Women of the Dream. “I have a lot of energy, and when I left Johnson, it wasn’t because I was tired,” he said.
NVU Provost and Chief Operating Officer Nolan Atkins’ invitation to return to NVU was unexpected. “It was a Sunday morning at seven o’clock [when] I received an email,” Kanat said. “I was asked if I would come back to help the faculty and the institution… Instantly, I said that this is interesting.”
It didn’t take long for Kanat to accept the offer. “Before they even approved it, I already started working because I knew what needed to be done, and I didn’t need to wait for a contract to start,” Kanat said.
Atkins said his new duties as NVU’s chief operating officer and recent appointment as provost for Vermont State University have necessitated bringing someone else on board to help handle the growing administrative responsibilities.
“The reason we hired Les is because I am taking on a lot more responsibility with the transformation work,” he said. “Right now, I’m neck deep in developing a vision and mission for the institution.
“I’m doing a lot of other work related to academic programs… so, because of that, and to ensure that the work that I need to do for NVU doesn’t slip through the cracks, we hired Les to pick up some of the duties that I’m going to have a hard time doing.”
Kanat was the logical choice for Atkins, given his deep familiarity with NVU and his longtime role on the faculty. “When we had decided on a solution, which was to hire somebody temporarily for this interim academic dean position, we wanted somebody who had knowledge of NVU, knowledge of the faculty, preferably somebody who was faculty,” Atkins said. “Therefore, that led us to faculty that had just recently retired, which Les had.
“Les was very appreciative of the opportunity to come back and work for NVU, and we’re very glad to have him. He’s doing a great job working to solve many of the issues and problems that [faculty are] encountering.”
The interim academic dean’s position is a one-year assignment to work administratively with faculty and students in specific areas. “Issues related to students that don’t get resolved at the class level or the department level eventually make their way up to administration, where I would be one of those individuals to help resolve those issues,” Kanat said.
He went on to add that “Right now, I’m reaching out to all faculty and meeting with them individually… and I’m asking them, ‘how are you, what’s going on, what do you need and how can I help?’”
Regarding his primary function, Kanat explained that with much of the confusion that comes with merging institutions, it helps to know where you need to go and whom you need to talk with to resolve the multitude of problems faculty, staff and students face regularly.
“There are places to go and we do have answers. [It’s] just people don’t know them,” Kanat said. By reaching out to these groups to identify bottlenecks and create solutions to these trouble areas, Kanat hopes to find ways to improve processes and move forward positively.
After his interim contract expires, Kanat doesn’t know what the future holds for him. Hesitant to speculate on the unknown, he didn’t rule out staying with NVU should the stars align. One thing is clear: the faculty on the Johnson campus seem to be in agreement that the return of Les Kanat is a great thing for the community.
“Les mentored me when I first arrived at Johnson,” said Professor of Writing and Literature Elizabeth Powell. “His friendly, kind, helpful demeanor and brilliance inspire me still. He’s a perfect choice. His dedication to service, community, knowledge, students and faculty are top notch.”
For Professor of Fine Arts Ken Leslie, who has taught at Johnson since 1984, Kanat’s return is both a blessing and perhaps a complication.
“To be honest, I have mixed feelings about Les coming back,” Leslie said. “Sure, he’s the perfect guy for the gig. No one else could hit the ground running with full knowledge of all things NVU, faculty, students, staff and catch-22s. He’s also crazy hard-working, focused and organized, with practiced sensitivity in listening to complications.
“But ever since email was invented, the world has confused our email addresses by assuming he was LeslieK. He isn’t. I am. I can’t begin to tell you how many times desperate science students begged me for project extensions, something I’d always let them have because I wasn’t KanatL and I’m always happy to be generous with what’s not mine to give. Ending that mix-up was the only up-side to his earlier retirement. It’s great for us that he’s back!”
Kanat said he is definitely feeling the love from friends and faculty at NVU. “I am getting the warmest most gracious greetings and welcoming back. It feels really good.”