Punk rock provost

Indiana State’s new Provost Mike Licari likes punk rock and launching rockets, but he’s also dedicated to service and helping students.

If you catch Mike Licari listening to music, it might be the likes of the Pixies, The Clash or the Ramones.

Indiana State University’s new provost and vice president for academic affairs says some people might find it surprising that a senior educational administrator is a fan of punk rock. But that’s not the only area where the 45-year-old Minnesota native might surprise you. In his limited free time, Licari builds scale model airplanes and builds and launches model rockets — something he picked up after winning a rocket kit as a prize in a junior high science fair.

He also likes to read military history.

Provost Mike Licari

Provost Mike Licari

“It’s always been fascinating,” Licari said. “Mostly it’s books on World War II. My grandfather was in the 10th Armored Division and fought in the war, so that’s where my interest stems from.”

Licari holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in political science, and it might be worth noting that such World War II military leaders as Dwight Eisenhower and Charles de Gaulle went on to serve as post-war political leaders.

Perhaps Licari’s other free time activity that might not surprise is fishing. He mostly fishes with his dad, son, and brother-in-law on one of his home state’s 10,000 lakes, but he’s also done some deep sea fishing — “That’s really fun,” he says — and he’s fished from the beach in Hawaii.

But, first and foremost, Licari is passionate about his job as Indiana State’s chief academic officer and about higher education, especially public higher education.

His degrees are from the University of Minnesota and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He worked at the State University of New York at Binghamton and spent 14 years at the University of Northern Iowa before coming to Indiana State in July.

“I like Indiana State University’s values,” he said. “Community service and community engagement have always been very meaningful to me. I like the fact that it’s a public comprehensive university. I think that kind of university is under appreciated in the United States. A lot of attention goes to the big research universities, but more students are educated at universities like Indiana State. We do far more in the way of direct help to communities and students than other universities.”

Provost Mike Licari poses for a photograph at Tent City during Indiana State's homecoming in 2015.

Provost Mike Licari poses for a photograph at Tent City during Indiana State’s homecoming in 2015.

Licari is driven by hard work and motivated by Indiana State’s ability to make a difference in students’ lives.

“I will work myself to the bone for the university and the people in it,” he said. “That probably comes from my parents. It’s something that’s always been with me. You work hard for others. If you do that, then good things will happen to you. None of this is easy work at any level, and so you need some key motivator.”

Access, service and commitment to the public good are his ideals for higher education, and he is pleased that Indiana State serves large numbers of diverse, low-income and first-generation students.

“That’s really important to me,” Licari said. “A university really should be judged on the students and what we’re doing for them by the time they graduate rather than by whom we let in the door.”

Licari said he believes his broad range of experiences as a faculty member, department chair, faculty senate chair, dean, associate provost and interim provost at Northern Iowa will serve Indiana State well.

“I’m open and honest. I’ll throw anything out there on the table,” he said. “I don’t hold cards back or anything, and I think I’m pretty open and accessible. I’m a pretty down-to-earth guy.”

The demands of Licari’s recent positions at Northern Iowa and his current job at Indiana State don’t leave much time for work/life balance. His son, Daniel, is a student at Terre Haute North Vigo High School and Licari regularly misses Daniel’s band concerts and tennis matches.

Licari served as a Boy Scout leader for several years — “an excuse to actually be able to talk to and be with my son,” he says.

Licari was a Boy Scout himself but admits he was “motivated by camping and doing all of the fun activities rather than earning merit badges and ranks.” He says one of his biggest regrets from growing up was dropping out of scouting.

“Part of me is now living vicariously through our son. He is an Eagle Scout and a much more accomplished Scout than I was,” he said.

Unhappy in his first faculty position at SUNY-Binghamton because he had not connected himself very well to the institution, Licari vowed to change that when he moved to Northern Iowa. Indeed, he rose through the academic ranks and even served a one-month stint as interim president before deciding “I needed to have a change.”

Suggesting that no one grows up wanting to be a provost and that most faculty members, when hired into their first job, likely have no idea what a provost does, Licari says he wound up in the position “mostly accidentally, but as I learned more about university leadership, I found it meaningful work and so I do it.”

But Licari is not always a “nose to the grindstone” guy. He says his wife would describe him as “hard working, definitely, but with a sense of humor. I like to joke around. I like to work hard and have fun doing it. If you can’t smile and joke around during the day while you’re working, you probably need to switch jobs.”

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