NEW ORLEANS — As a former dean of the College of Education and Human Development at the University of New Orleans, Darrell Kruger is not exactly new to UNO.
However, prior to his formal return to UNO on Jan. 1 as the new provost, senior vice president of academic affairs and executive director of research and economic development, Kruger wanted to introduce himself to the campus community, so he held informal chat sessions in the University Center.
Those informal sessions — which Kruger said he plans to continue — is an example of Kruger’s “walking” management philosophy. He wants to walk the campus, visit departments, and talk with students, faculty and staff on a regular basis, Kruger said.
“You’re fostering collaboration, you’re trying to bring people together and break down some of those silos we stereotypically think about in higher education,” he said. “I’m a relational leader, so people are at the center of the work.”
He succeeds Mahyar Amouzegar, who stepped down after six years as provost to join the College of Business Administration faculty in the Department of Economics and Finance.
Kruger, who is from South Africa and holds a doctorate degree in geography, said his people-centered mentality is rooted in a South African philosophy of “Ubuntu.” It was a term used often by the late South African President Nelson Mandela in discussing how a person’s recognition of shared humanity leads to a better community.
“The short of it is that it’s people centered. I can only be a human being through my interaction with you and other human beings,” Kruger said. “So being a relational leader—’Ubuntu’—is about people and relationships … and then it’s collaborative.”
Kruger has an affinity for quotes. In fact, he loves to collect them and years ago created a personal database that he continually updates.
“Whenever I run across a new quote that I find powerful or insightful, I make a note of it in my record and who introduced me to it or where I read about it,” Kruger said.
The appreciation for pithy phrases comes from his late father, Kruger said.
“He was probably the most wise person who wasn’t college educated,” Kruger said. “He had a number of incredibly interesting phrases that sort of captured life, and so I think I learned an appreciation from him.”
A phrase from the database that came to Kruger’s mind during a recent interview was “mazel tov,” courtesy of UNO faculty member Abram Himelstein.
“When I was dean and when I left, he wrote me a nice note. It is a Hebrew expression, mazel tov, wishing someone good luck,” Kruger said. “That is in my list of sayings and quotes and I have Abram’s name beside it.”
Another entry is a phrase he heard former U.S. Secretary of State Jim Baker use during a television interview in the 1990s that still sticks with him.
“He asked James Baker why he thought he was an effective secretary of state and James Baker said his father taught him the five ‘Ps:’ prior preparation prevents poor performance. For some reason, it just stuck with me,” Kruger said. “These quotes have a life of their own and they are attached to people. We learn the lessons of life from people who came before us.”
He was attracted to UNO, Kruger said, because of what he calls the three Ps: the people, the place and the programs.
“The people of New Orleans, aside from being fun-loving, enjoy life,” Kruger said. “Place and programs go hand-in-hand. If you look at many of the teaching and research opportunities, they are connected to the local environment, whether it’s coastal processes or new energy.
“Just a couple days ago, we had four faculty members who were part of the state’s updated coastal master plan. That’s a great example of having people here who are connected to the place and trying to improve it, in this case, coastal erosion.”
Kruger, who has nearly three decades of experience as a faculty member, researcher and administrator, is the former provost at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., a role he held for five years.
While there, Kruger is credited with helping grow the university’s enrollment, including an increase in historically underrepresented student population from 13.9% in 2015 to 18% in 2020.
“Appalachian State is a predominantly white institution, but we significantly increased the number of students from historically underrepresented backgrounds,” Kruger said. “We consistently grew enrollment for the five years I was provost, every year.”
Prior to his time at Appalachian State, Kruger served as the dean of the College of Education and Human Development at UNO from 2013-2015.
Kruger also had previous experience working within the University of Louisiana System. He was a tenured associate professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, where he served as the undergraduate and graduate program adviser for geography and co-director of the Louisiana Geographic Education Alliance.
Kruger, who came to the United States in 1989 to attend graduate school, has spent the bulk of those years in Louisiana. His three children were born in Louisiana; one in Baton Rouge and two in Monroe, he said.
“There’s always been this pull back to Louisiana,” Kruger said.
Kruger received his doctorate and Master of Arts degree in geography at Louisiana State University and his Bachelor of Arts degree in geography at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa.
Kruger said he also applies lessons learned as a rugby fan and player to guide his management style. It’s more about the team than it is about a single player, he said.
Kruger plans to demonstrate that team-first mentality as he assumes the reins as UNO’s chief academic and research officer.
“Everyone in the organization is a leader. It’s not just the president and the provost and deans and the department chairs; everyone is a leader,” Kruger said. “Some of the best ideas come from people who work in the organization and who may not think of themselves as leaders … And I need them, if we are to strengthen UNO and the academic vision of the institution.”