The University of Kentucky is hiring its first remotely based professor — educational technology specialist Scott McLeod, who will do most of his work from his home in Ames, Iowa.
McLeod, who is now in New Zealand while on sabbatical from Iowa State University, will be an associate professor in the UK College of Education and director of technology and innovation. That role is designed to help educators use technology to improve achievement of students from kindergarten through college. He also will teach one course each semester.
McLeod, 42, will be paid $115,000 for nine months, compared with his $80,000 salary at Iowa State.
UK officials said they thought McLeod was uniquely qualified to work remotely. He is the director of the national Center for Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education, which is relocating to UK under his leadership. Known as CASTLE, the center will work with the UK College of Education's P-20 Innovation Lab, which researches and implements efforts to improve schools throughout the state by using technology.
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In a telephone interview last week from New Zealand, where he is a visiting fellow at the University of Canterbury, McLeod said that by hiring him UK is acknowledging "that the world is now digital and global. We work with school leaders to help them transition into this new world."
His remote status makes sense because 90 percent of his work is electronic anyway: "It's an unusual setup for universities," he said. "It's not unusual for companies."
Remote teaching is not new. The UK College of Arts and Sciences has an extensive list of online courses, and some schools offer degrees from classes taught entirely online.
But McLeod's job is different. He will be involved in teaching, research and administration, almost all long-distance.
Tom Davenport, the President's Chair in Information Technology and Management at Babson College, said the administrative piece of an academic job can be particularly difficult to do remotely.
Davenport blogged about the technology company Eclipsys, which changed its chief executive because the board of directors wanted a manager to run the company from its Atlanta headquarters rather than a "remote CEO" who was working from Silicon Valley.
"It's really common for professors to be all over the place when they're doing their work, but administrators less so," Davenport said Wednesday. "Most managers need to have some face-to-face contact."
Some UK education faculty members have doubts about McLeod's ability to do other aspects of the job from afar.
Debra Harley, UK professor of special education and rehabilitation counseling, said she has concerns about functions other than teaching.
"How can you be engaged and do service when you're not here?" Harley said. "Electronic service doesn't exist."
For education professors, service can include anything from mentoring a colleague to watching how classroom teachers use technology.
Brian Bottge, a professor of special education and rehabilitation counseling, last week visited local schools to see how building a hovercraft helped students grasp math and science concepts. He questioned how someone with limited community ties can do those sorts of things from another state.
McLeod will come to Lexington three to five days a month during the academic year, according to his job offer letter.
"I anticipate being all over the state," McLeod said. "I'm very much a feet-on-the-ground professor."
Education faculty members also raised questions about McLeod's $115,000 salary as an associate professor; in the education department, salaries for associate professors usually range from the low $60,000s to the $80,000s.
Bottge said he does not understand how UK can hire "two high-priced people"— McLeod and his colleague, John Nash — right now. Like their colleagues elsewhere at UK, faculty and staff in the education college have not received raises in three years.
Nash will be making $85,000 for nine months at UK but will be moving to Lexington.
McLeod also will receive a guarantee of two months summer salary during each of his first two years and get $17,000 in start-up funds during that time for research-related activities. He will get $20,000 in funding for his center and two nine-month research assistants based in Lexington.
After UK targeted McLeod and a colleague to come to UK, it was McLeod who convinced administrators he could be a remotely based faculty member so he and his family could remain in Iowa.
He said in his proposal he has taught entirely or partly online for nearly a decade: "If there's an educational leadership professor in the country that can do this and do this well, it's me."
He will begin Aug. 16 if his appointment is approved by UK's board of trustees.
UK will evaluate the remote arrangement and give a minimum notice of two years before ending the agreement.
'Top people in the world'
Recruiting and hiring McLeod and Nash is a coup, said Mary John O'Hair, dean of the College of Education.
McLeod is the very top "in terms of technology leadership," said O'Hair, who pointed out he has worked with departments of education in seven states and 12 countries.
Recruiting McLeod and his center also "fits in well with the university's mission to Top 20 status," she said.
"We really have to go after the top people not only in our region, we have to go after the top people in the world, and that's what we feel like we've done with Scott McLeod and John Nash," she said.
McLeod acknowledged there could be disadvantages to working remotely.
"I recognize that some individuals at UK are going to be resentful of this setup, feel inconvenienced and/or see this as special treatment," he said. "I likely will miss a few faculty social get-togethers as well as a few professional meetings and will miss out on some of the culture and other benefits of being a resident UK faculty member."
Several Kentucky superintendents were enthusiastic about McLeod's pending association with UK.
Carmen Coleman, superintendent of Danville Schools, said McLeod's work is nationally known for its vision in linking technology with student achievement.
"I've admired his work from afar for a long time," she said.
Correction: Brian Bottge's name was misspelled. It has been corrected in the online version.