MU could hire second female provost in university history

Three of the four candidates for the position are women.

MU has been searching for a provost since Brian Foster retired on Jan. 1, and there are four candidates for the position: Michele Wheatly, John Wiencek, Nancy Brickhouse and Garnett Stokes. If one of the three female candidates is hired, she would become the second female provost in university history.

Lois DeFleur, provost from 1986 to 1990, was the university’s only female provost since the position was created in 1966. Lori Franz also served as interim provost from 2004 to 2005.

Six of the 12 schools in the Southeastern Conference currently have a female provost: the universities of Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee, Texas A&M University and Vanderbilt University. Four other schools have a male provost, and two — MU and the University of Alabama — currently have male interim provosts.

Men outnumber women in other areas of MU’s administration. According to the MU Council of Deans website, only two of the university’s 13 deans are women.

One of the two female deans, Judith Miller, held a variety of administrative positions at Marquette University in Milwaukee before becoming dean of the Sinclair School of Nursing in 2008. She said she sees being a woman as an advantage in the academic field.

“Diversity is very important in this era in academics, and it’s absolutely recognized that diversity, in this case gender diversity, brings different perspectives to the table,” Miller said. “I have never felt held back in any way.”

Miller said she believes a female provost would bring unique leadership skills to the university, including team building, inclusivity and sensitivity.

“I think women are interested in learning about others and varied perspectives, and have a decision-making model that depends on input of experience from others,” she said. “Women can be persuasive and make solid decisions while being empathetic at the same time. They have a sense of flexibility about organizations and management.”

Vice Chancellor for Finance Rhonda Gibler said when she was hired as MU’s budget director, she was surprised to hear that she was MU's first female budget director.

“It hadn’t crossed my mind that it mattered one way or another,” she said. “I think my gender hasn’t really mattered (in my career), compared to the content of my work, my interest and working with other people on the team.”

Gibler said she believes experience and background is more important than gender in the new provost.

“I got to meet each of the candidates and I felt that each of them has really good background experience to bring to the position,” she said. “I will certainly embrace whoever gets the role. As another woman, I don’t mind rooting for them, but I want the most qualified candidate to get the job.”

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Cathy Scroggs started her career as a residence hall coordinator at Stephens College before becoming the director of Greek Life at MU. She said she doesn’t believe being a woman affected her rise to administration at MU.

“The provost is an academic leader that helps us shape and provide the academic programs for undergraduates and graduates,” she said. “I don’t know that gender is going to matter in terms of a person’s ability to provide leadership in that area. As a woman, it’s always exciting to see another woman have an opportunity to serve in a leadership role like this, especially a really critical leadership role.”

Scroggs said a strong academic leader in the position will help move the university forward and offer a role model for people across campus.

“If the new provost is a female, then I think young women can look at that person and say, ‘I can do that someday,’” she said. “The first time I had a woman who was a professor in a science class I was taking … I thought, ‘Wow, this may be something I could do. There’s somebody that looks like me.’”

Miller, Gibler and Scroggs all said they have seen an increase of women in administrative positions during their careers.

“I think the number of women in administration has increased because diversity is recognized as a very positive attribute to have,” Miller said. “Diversity brings varied perspectives, worldviews, thoughts and ideas.”

Director of MU Equity Noel English said she believes diversity is essential to hiring the best possible candidate for university positions.

“Diversity is not only about the numbers, but it is in part about the numbers,” she said in an email. “Diverse hiring brings new ideas and allows us to consider our decision from multiple perspectives. Sometimes a white male is the best person to lead a diverse organization, and sometimes not.”

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