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Dr. Robert Mangione – From Student to Provost of St. John’s University

By: Katharine Cimmino, Editor-in-Chief and Melissa Roy, Co-Copy Editor [Graphics-Focused]

Dr. Mangione has been a prominent member here at St. John’s University both as a student and as a leader. Before becoming our dedicated Provost, Dr. Mangione was the Dean of the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences since 1999. He joined the St. John’s University faculty in 1979. He earned his B.S. in Pharmacy, M.S. in Pharmaceutical Sciences (Clinical Pharmacy), as well as a P.D. and an Ed.D. in Administration and Supervision, all from St. John’s University.

Along with being involved with our own University, Dr. Mangione was also a clinical faculty member at Nassau Country Medical Center (1979-1981) and Schneider Children’s Hospital of Long Island Jewish Medical Center (1981-1990). Before coming to St. John’s University, Dr. Mangione interned at Lenox Hill Hospital and was a resident at Mercy Medical Center.

A scholar and a researcher, Dr. Mangione has co-authored more than 100 publications. He has published in numerous journals, including the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association, Journal of Urban Health, and many more. He also has a professional and personal interest in Celiac Disease and has conducted research projects and published papers on the subject.

The Rho Chi Post was fortunate enough to sit down and talk to Dr. Mangione with his new position as St. John’s University’s Provost. He gave us some personal insights on what his new job entails and showed us just how devoted he is to the students, faculty, and University.

Many of our students know that you hold the position of Provost, but what exactly does that entail?
I am still learning every day about what being Provost entails. The Provost is the Chief Academic Officer.

I sometimes describe it as being the dean of the deans. So when I was the Dean of the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, I had associate deans and department heads reporting to me. Now as the Provost, I have the deans of each individual school reporting to me. If there is an issue with an academic policy or if there is an academic fiscal issue, my office is where it is addressed and it’s a great place to be.           

Was becoming Provost ever one of your goals?
Honestly, I did not apply for the position as Provost when the position first became available in 2011. I was honored when the search committee contacted me in February 2012 to ask if I was interested in applying for the position, but my wife had just been diagnosed with ovarian cancer at that time and I did not think I should pursue the position because of her illness. Fr. Harrington later contacted me in August 2012 and asked if I would serve as Interim Provost as the search remained open at that time. Although I was hesitant because my wife’s illness, Janet was doing better at that time and was extremely supportive– in fact, she told me that if I didn’t take the position then I shouldn’t come home. A few months later I applied for the position of Provost and was fortunate to be selected. If it wasn’t for all of my wife’s support, I never would have pursued this position, or would have been worthy of selection, and I am truly grateful to her because I do enjoy being your Provost.

When you are faced with a problem or a decision, who is the person or group in our University who makes the final decision?
In many instances the buck stops here, but I believe in working in a more collaborative way. We talk things through and I would hope that the decision taken is the one of majority consensus. There are some situations where I will be the outlier, but I get to make decisions so it’s okay if my opinion differs. Overall though, I like to think that we work together.

We have a tremendous group here at St. John’s University. I work very well with the deans and each one of my colleagues has their area of expertise and responsibility. We are a very complex organization and we seem to only be getting more complex, which is a good thing. There are many different people who report to me and help make St. John’s University great. I report directly to the President. I work very closely with the Executive Vice President, who deals with many of the non-academic and fiscal areas of the University, and all academic matters associated with the colleges, the faculty, and the students are ultimately my responsibility.

As provost, what are some challenging decisions that you’ve had to make? Can you highlight some of the rewards?
I really like where I am and I am very happy in this position, however there are some situations that are more difficult and challenging than others. I think understanding the needs of the Staten Island campus was a challenge. For that we had just issued a strategic plan. Dr. Ross and the faculty did a tremendous job trying to facilitate the decision of what direction we should pursue. This project was difficult for me because I became involved late in the process and this particular project had been going on for a number of years.

There are also the issues of leadership and making sure we have the right leaders in the right place at the right time. Then the day-to-day challenges include allocation of funds. It is always hard to decide what initiatives get funding but I try to make a decision and then pray for the grace to be able to live with the consequences of my decisions. I do make hard decisions, but overall the rewards are worth it. The students and the faculty put their faith in me so I want to make sure that I do the right thing for them and I think, more than anything, this is what makes being provost most challenging and perhaps most rewarding. What drives me most is doing the right thing for the institution and to not disappoint the people who I am serving. I want to be here in this position right now and I am very grateful for this wonderful opportunity.

Do you miss being dean?
There are definitely things that I do miss about being dean, especially the student contact. When I was having a particularly challenging day, I would walk through the halls of St. Albert’s. While the students probably thought that I was checking in on them, I was actually just recharging my battery. Seeing them hard at work would always give me a second wind to go back to whatever I was doing. I also miss the faculty. They are all my friends and I feel like I grew up in St. Albert’s Hall. While I still talk to them, I don’t get the everyday interactions that I used to have. I don’t miss the difficulty of telling students that they could not continue in the program. That was always the hardest part of the job and it always broke my heart.

But with this new position, I have also made some great new friends. This is a wonderful environment, the office has a tremendous view of the Great Lawn, and it really is a great place to work. I never thought I would be here but I am truly happy that I was given the opportunity to serve as your Provost.

This position definitely comes with a different set of responsibilities, and with that I would like to share a story with you. I periodically have to sign checks for the University and I’m one of the few people authorized to do so. One day, I am brought a stack of checks. The first one crosses my desk and is for $10,000. So I read the back up material justifying why the check is written and sign it. The next one comes in and is for $15,000. After a few checks, I come across one that is for $1.7 million. I actually just stopped and took a moment. It was sitting right here on my desk, so I kneeled down and my associate who brought me the check to sign, Ms. Cacavallo, asked me why I was kneeling. I replied, ‘Well honestly for two reasons: first, I am praying that this amount is correct and second, when I pass out after signing this check I will have a smaller distance to fall.’ So you can see with this position there is a whole different set of responsibilities.

With this new position, do you still have the opportunity to teach or guest lecture?
I actually still do teach. Last year during my term as interim Provost, Father Harrington asked that I not teach during the transition. Right now though I am teaching Social Aspects of Pharmacy again, which is a fun course. I always love it when I am invited to give a lecture on celiac disease as it still is my interest and we are currently finishing up a study that was funded by the FDA. Sometimes I am asked to lecture on leadership and things like that. I am always delighted if faculty or students invite me to give a talk and it is great to be with them. I no longer teach the pharmacy law course. Even though I still am a registered pharmacist and I keep up with the profession as best that I can, I feel that you have to keep much more up-to-date with the law component to teach the course and with my new responsibilities I just don’t have the time.

With the position as provost, how can you shape or further expand a curriculum?
Faculty, by statute, drives the curriculum. This is a very good thing because faculty are the content experts and closest to the discipline. Where the Office of the Provost would become involved is the fiscal aspects. We answer questions like: Does it make good fiscal sense? Is it the kind of program we have adequate resources to support? If we don’t have those resources, can we obtain them? Is the program consistent with the mission of the institution? Do we have enough demand for this program? etc… Overall, our influence of the curriculum is more from a subsequent development level as oppose to creating the curriculum itself.

We can also influence a curriculum by directly asking the deans to consider going in a certain direction. Normally the Office of the Provost does not take such a forward role, but we can make suggestions.

What is your 5-year plan for the University?
This is the last year of the institutional repositioning document, which was an extension of the University’s strategic plan, and we have just started talking about the next strategic plan. The academic strategic plan has to be integrated into the university strategic plan. Many people will say the university strategic plan should drive the academic strategic plan, whereas I think it should be the opposite. Right now, we are in the process of looking at the SWOT analysis and asking critical questions. I am also in the process of reaching out to the University Senate and talking to the Academic Planning Committee, which is a committee of faculty. I am interested in talking to the Academic Affairs Committee of Student Government to get a feel for their opinion on the appropriate criteria and markers to look at. Once all these things are done, I feel that you can get a good idea of where you want to go and then figuring out how to get there becomes much easier.

As of right now, we don’t have a 5-year plan, but this year the idea is to develop that plan. We also have to keep in mind that we will have a new president and it might be presumptuous to establish a detailed plan before he or she is in place. We are, however, very fortunate to have a great leader in Father Levesque. For now though we are looking to get a general feel and build a foundation so we know where the gaps are, where the opportunities lie, and then create a plan from there.

So there are rumors that St. Albert’s Hall is going to be expanded and renovated. Is there any truth to that?
I wish these rumors were true. I have been trying for years as Dean and I have a dream of filling in that parking lot that sits behind the building and putting a wing there. My dream for the building would be to expand it to include many more of the College of Pharmacy and Health Science’s programs, but we don’t have the money to support it. This could include relocating the programs from the Bartilucci Center back to campus. I would also like to add in the speech and hearing center and psychological services to that building. Imagine if we had a structure where that parking lot was. On the first floor, we could have all clinical services including psychology, reading, hearing, speech, and maybe even a community pharmacy. On the next floor, we could have allied health sciences and also put in some research facilities. If we could make each floor its own discipline and really design the building like that, that would really be special, but it would be a multi-million dollar project. Today we don’t have the funds, but there are many things that have happened at St. John’s University that I never thought were possible. Just because we don’t have the means now doesn’t mean we won’t ever be able to do it. For now I just keep dreaming it and envisioning it. I can clearly envision it and maybe during my time I will have the opportunity to truly see something like this come to pass. So that is Bob Mangione’s plan but does anyone else agree, I don’t know.

What inspired you to pursue a career in teaching instead of a community or hospital pharmacy?
I actually worked in both community and hospital settings. I pretty much always wanted to teach at the college level and as I stop to think about it, it was the pharmacists in my life who influenced me to become a teacher. One mentor was my junior high school science teacher who was a pharmacist, and my high school teacher, also a pharmacist, who taught anatomy and physiology. But if I had to name just one person, which is very difficult, it would have to be Sister Jane Durgin. Sister Jane is a pioneer in clinical pharmacy and she, more than anyone else, saw that this would be a good direction for me to go in. She taught and showed me by example that I could be a pharmacist and work in a way that I could convey information to others, so that was how it started.

As medicine continues to rapidly evolve and expand, pharmacy schools have expanded their programs, while other schools have begun to offer joint pharmacy programs (PharmD/MBA, PharmD/PhD). In fact, recently, Rutgers has been the first to create the 10 year PharmD/MD program. What is your take on expansion of the pharmacy curriculum? Do you think there’s a possibility that St. John’s University will offer joint pharmacy degrees in the future?
This is definitely something that I want to see be done at St. John’s University. When I was Dean of the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, this was one of my objectives. Now, of course as Provost, I respond to what the deans say so I will work closely with Dean DiGate and the faculty to discuss things, but I think we have extraordinary potential for PharmD/MBA, PharmD/JD, PharmD/MPH, and others. I think it’s important for the institution.

How do you envision the pharmacy profession 10 years from now? With a growing dependence on biotechnology for new drug therapies, how do you think gene therapy will impact pharmacy as well as the responsibilities of pharmacists?
This is a great time to be in pharmacy. This is just my opinion, but I think the distribution function of medications will be provided more by technical support staff and we will see a difference in the technician to pharmacist ratio. I think the pharmacists will be called upon for more of their cognitive skills and be included more in management of care.

Genetics will have a significant impact. People can get tested and, in essence, genetic profiling can be conducted. This will definitely bring with it ethical questions, because we will know one’s potential to develop certain diseases early on. We will also be able to understand how people respond to drug therapies and I think pharmacists will be in a great position to interpret and share data, and collaborate with prescribers to come up with the best individualized therapy.

I also think you will find more primary public health services being provided in pharmacy. The immunization program is such a success you can easily see this evolving into something bigger. I think things like compounding will become the job of more educated technical staff. Don’t get me wrong, I was a pediatric pharmacist and I completely understand the importance of compounding medications. While I think that compounding is important and still a skill that a pharmacist needs to know, I think there will be a shift in responsibilities so the pharmacist can be used elsewhere. Already in hospitals, you see pharmacists up on the units working with a team to make decisions. There are still many questions and issues to be worked out but at the end of the day I feel like the profession will move in a direction towards what is best for the patient.

As someone who has held numerous extraordinary leadership positions in the pharmacy profession, what do you believe are important attributes of a good leader?
I have been very blessed and very fortunate that I am surrounded by great people who support me, especially my wife and family. I have been fortunate that when I have been placed in leadership positions, I have been surrounded by great people who always made me look smarter and better than I really am. So I give a lot of credit to those who helped me but the standard that I try to live up to is to be a good servant leader according to Robert Greenleaf’s tradition. This includes having qualities like listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community.

When you look at these qualities, I think many of these traditions are consistent with being both an academic leader and a member of a Vincentian institution. For me though, when all is said and done, I always ask myself if my family would be proud of what I did or embarrassed. If they would be embarrassed then I shouldn’t do it. I always take responsibilities for my actions and I always take responsibility for anyone who reports to me. I am here to support them, but I also know that I make the final decision.

When people come to me and say that they made a mistake, the first thing I do is look at the carpet and say, ‘Well I don’t see any blood on the carpet; there is no chalk outline of a body; and as far as I can see no one is attached to life support measures; I think we can get through this.’ But after calming the person down we have to take a good look at what has happened and come up with a better solution.

It is a privilege to serve as your provost and I don’t want to ever disappoint you. Again, I have been very fortunate to have a lot of people whose shoulders I am standing on- I realize that and I don’t want to disappoint them either. You have to have heroes in your life and you try to be as good as them and live up to their standards. Even if you don’t come close, in your attempt you definitely become a better person and a better leader. That is the way I look at it.

What would you advise students who are thinking about becoming leaders of pharmacy clubs at St. John’s University?
Always be honest with yourself. It is important to recognize your personal limitations but don’t let them stop you. I know that sounds like a contradiction but when we are moved out of our comfort zone it can get a little scary, but unless you do that you are never going to grow. You also have to recognize your limitations and know when to ask for help. Take responsibilities for your decisions. Don’t be afraid to say you are sorry if you make a mistake but more importantly, look for a solution. The most important thing is to be honest with yourself. Realize that in a leadership position you have people counting on you so make sure you take responsibility and always work hard to avoid making the same mistake twice. If you do all these little things and try to work together with people, I think it will lead to success.

Is there any other advice that you can give to pharmacy students?
Enjoy the ride! I think that when all is said and done and you look back, the ordinary is truly the extraordinary and sometimes that’s lost in the moment. You are never going to be this age again. I realize that being in school may not always be the best of times, especially when you guys stay up all night studying for your Drugs & Diseases tests. But for me, some of my fondest moments were those all-night study sessions with my friends and those are the experiences that I took with me. Just remember to enjoy your time here and maximize your opportunities. Do everything you possibly can with the time that is given to you. Most importantly, cherish your friendships. I have friends today who I met as undergrads and the relationship has been maintained and that’s one of the greatest gifts I have received going through this profession.

The Rho Chi Post would like to thank Dr. Mangione for sharing his time and expertise with us. He is truly an inspiration for all students and faculty, and we congratulate him on his prestigious and well-deserved position as our Provost.

Published by Rho Chi Post
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