University search for provost continues

The campus is taking the next step in its search for a provost, with hopes high to have the position filled in time for the beginning of Fall 2012.

Wednesday marks the last day for applicants to submit materials for full consideration to the search firm hired by the University, Atlanta-based Parker Executive Search. In the coming months, the search committee will hold interviews with a large pool of candidates. The new provost will replace Richard Wheeler, who has served in the interim role since 2010.

Committee chair Paula Kaufman declined to comment on the size or the composition of the current pool but did say the “campus community has responded vigorously to the Massmail call for nominations.”

But the recent trend for internal candidates has not fared well. Before Wheeler, three of the last four provosts, including Linda Katehi and Richard Herman, have come from outside the University. The only internal applicant who was selected in that stretch was Larry Faulkner, who had served as a chemistry professor and as LAS dean before he left the provost position to assume the presidency of the University of Texas at Austin.

When the search firm began fielding applications, the campus advertised to a leading publication in higher education as well as ones that target underrepresented candidates, as it did with the chancellor search last year. The campus publicized the high-ranking administrative position in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Diverse Issues in Higher Education and Women in Higher Education.

During the chancellor search that culminated in the hiring of Phyllis Wise, the first Asian American woman to lead a major American research university, the campus spent about half of its advertising money on publications that reached out to underrepresented groups.

After initial discussions to gauge interest, the committee will provide an unranked list of finalists to Wise, Kaufman said. Wise will bring in those candidates to the campus for another round of interviews before selecting an applicant in the summer.

Wheeler, who previously served as the dean of the Graduate College, has not considered himself a candidate for the permanent position.

Wheeler was tapped to fill the interim role after the “Category I” admissions scandal in 2009 forced the resignation of then-chancellor Richard Herman, suspending the ongoing search process for a permanent provost. He was appointed to succeed Robert Easter, who was then serving as both the interim provost and interim chancellor.

The provost reports directly to the chancellor and is in charge of overseeing academic programs and budget decisions on campus. The search comes at a time when the University is facing budget cuts from lawmakers in Springfield, forcing it to make key decisions about sustaining academic programs.

Wheeler said this will be one of the biggest hurdles for his successor.

“The major challenge that I see for the provost is working aggressively to move things forward, while being careful enough … that we don’t find ourselves in a bad place because of an economic crisis,” he said in October. “We just can’t presume that the world has turned good and prosperous again. We have to be very, very careful.”