Search For New Provost Is On, USF Holds Public Interviews

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Dean of Students Mary Wardell, right, sits beside provost candidate Devorah Lieberman, center. Lieberman answered interview questions at a public forum held on Monday in McLaren. Although the forum was open to students, very few attended.  Photo by Cass Krughoff/Foghorn
Dean of Students Mary Wardell, right, sits beside provost candidate Devorah Lieberman, center. Lieberman answered interview questions at a public forum held on Monday in McLaren. Although the forum was open to students, very few attended. Photo by Cass Krughoff/Foghorn

USF will undergo a significant transition in the coming year the addition of a new provost, ending James L. Wiser’s 11 years of service as the university’s current provost and vice president of academic affairs.

Wiser decided to leave the position last spring. “I think [because] he’s done the job for a long time, he would like to step down and let somebody else take the rein,” said Tim Iglesias, law professor and chair of the Provost Search Committee, adding that Wiser also plans to go on sabbatical.

The four candidates being considered for the position Dr. Jennifer Turpin, Dr. Joseph Weixlmann, Dr. Devorah Lieberman, and Dr. Joyce E. King were announced by Iglesias last month, to welcome faculty, staff, and students to attend on-campus interviews in the last week of January and the first week of February. Iglesias said holding student forums is “valuable” in the decision to appoint a new provost, and that students should be concerned because the provost’s position and authority follows directly under the president of the University, granting him or her supervisory capacity over all deans to influence academic decisions about new courses offered and whether changes will be made in the curriculum. In particular, the provost also supervises university life, integrating extracurricular activities with curricular activities “to help create the atmosphere in which the university can fulfill its mission. So for students, the provost has a lot of power,” Iglesias said.

Iglesias said that students are encouraged to ask critical questions of the candidates at the interview forums. “It’s okay to challenge them,” he said, “and ask, ‘what are you going to do about this?’”

Among the top issues the new provost will have to manage is the financial situation that Rev. Stephen Privett, S.J., president, has previously addressed, “one that is obviously a top-burner issue,” Iglesias said. He said the new provost will have to devise a plan to cut costs but still deliver high quality education to populations USF wants to serve. The new provost will also have to change or work with the current admission standards, in terms of recruiting students and generating a diverse student body that wants to be here because of the university’s mission. The third challenge pertains to the integration of the academic experience with student life, since “there needs to be better integration of those two than there is currently,” Iglesias said.

Other concerns involve the development of the new science building and renovating residence halls; even though these projects wouldn’t fall directly under the provost’s supervisions, he or she would have to coordinate with these projects. The space issue is another example challenge Iglesias mentioned, regarding USF’s expansion to other regional campuses.
“If want to grow, we have to figure out where we’re going to grow,” he said.

According to ASUSF Senate President Bobby Marquez, he also agrees that USF must improve to make tuition more affordable for students, which he said is “no easy task at all.”

Student life and involvement is also a concern. Even though USF “has made strides in this area,” Marquez said, “I think much work still needs to be done. I know that some students have much pride in this University, but I also realize that many become apathetic. We must explore why this is and how to make more students take pride in USF. Ultimately, the better that USF performs in the future, the better it is for all USF graduates. I believe that a vibrant and engaged student body is crucial to making the student experience the best it possibly can be,” he said.

In early February, the Provost Search Committee, which consists of nine USF staff members, will submit recommendations to Privett. including whom they believe are the qualified candidates and the pros and cons of those candidates. Privett will then make the final decision of whom he wants to hire. Staff and student input is collated by the feedback forms handed out at every interview meeting with the candidates, which allow participants to rate candidates on a scale of one to four and to write narrative comments. The information is included anonymously within the committee’s report to the President. According to Iglesias, student input is taken “quite seriously.”

If participants are unable to make it to the on-campus interviews, surveys are available online, and allow feedback, but paper surveys from the meetings are more detailed.

In addition to the student interviews, the Provost Search Committee has also contacted ASUSF to provide student feedback, which is “important that students take advantage of this opportunity,” said Marquez. “Every student that cares about the future of USF can have their voice heard and taken into account by telling USF who we believe is the best selection to be our new provost,” he said.

The candidates were found through nominations, from the candidates themselves or from others, and by the recruitment done by a hired search firm. At a faculty and staff meeting, which included four students (among them, Marquez), discussions were made about what was needed in a provost, and the committee then combined that criteria into a job specification, which was announced and advertised in various publications, including the Chronicle of Higher Education. The information was also added to the provost website.

The four candidates include USF’s own Dean of College of Arts and Science, Dr. Jennifer Turpin, Dr. Devorah Lieberman, current provost at Wagner College in New York City, Dr. Joyce E. King, Professor of Educational Policy Studies and the Benjamin E. Mays Endowed Chair for Urban Teaching, Learning and Leadership at Georgia State University, and Dr. Joseph Weixlmann, former provost at Saint Louis University’s Arts & Sciences (2002-2009). Complete details and biographies are offered on the provost website.

Iglesias is “pretty convinced” with the qualities derived from the committee and USF community. Those qualities include academic achievement. “They have to be a scholar, because otherwise they don’t deserve and will not get the respect from the faculty that they’re leading,” Iglesias said. Top-quality administration skills are also a must, since the new provost will be managing and overseeing the budget along with important decisions about the curriculum. The provost also must be a good communicator, to inspire trust among different-minded people and justify hard decisions to them–or, if individuals are not on-board with decisions, at least maintain good communication with them. “The person really needs to both understand and buy into our vision and our mission as the university,” he said, “we wouldn’t want to hire somebody who is out of sync with that.”

If possible, the new provost will begin the position in the summer, to provide overlap between him or herself and Provost Wiser, said Iglesias. “The actual start date is going to be a matter of negotiation between [Father Privett and] the person that Father Privett hires, but the goal is to have somebody ready and in the job the beginning of the fall semester.”

Iglesias recommends that people keep three things in mind when considering the different candidates: to be open and curious of all candidates, to recognize that each would bring a different set of experiences, and to evaluate them as whole people, rather than their stances on particular issues.

3 COMMENTS

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