Provost decision a critical choice

The new provost would need to address various challenges like a shrinking university budget, issues related to Title IX and faculty morale and retention problems.

Since former executive vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost Brian Foster retired Jan. 1, MU has been conducting a search to fill the vacant position.

According to the Office of the Provost, the provost is the chief academic officer for the university. He or she oversees all academic priorities, activities and policies of the university.

The provost is responsible for MU’s 14 colleges and their schools, departments and centers as well as many other units that support academics.

Four candidates have visited MU this fall for open forums: Michele Wheatly, John Wiencek, Nancy Brickhouse and Garnett Stokes.

What does a provost do?

Various faculty members and administrators gave their opinions on the provost’s many roles.

Faculty Council member Harry Tyrer said the provost works with the chancellor, the deans of each school and college, department chairs and other campus leaders, but mainly serves as “the deans’ boss.”

He said other roles a provost must fill include managing reports from the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, currently Cathy Scroggs, and the Student Success Center.

The provost oversees MU Extension, a research program that helps MU fulfill its mission of extending benefits of university research beyond the campus.

“Extension is the way that we take our technology out to the public,” Faculty Council chairman Craig Roberts said. “(The provost) is in charge of working with community in college.”

The provost also manages MU’s more than 2,000 faculty members.

Roberts said a major aspect of faculty management is economic development of the members, such as grants and startups.

“Faculty here are encouraged to try to launch their own startup companies through entrepreneurship,” he said.

Tyrer said the provost should recognize the achievements of faculty members and encourage faculty to excel in what it does.

In addition to working with faculty members, the provost has obligations to students.

Michael O’Brien, dean of the College of Arts and Science, said the provost must “(make) sure that MU offers the most intensive programs that combine opportunities for students to excel in and out of the classroom.”

Roberts also said the provost should provide leadership rather than being in charge.

What qualities are important in a provost?

Faculty members and administrators said they view a variety of personal qualities as vital for the provost position.

Roberts said he believes the most important quality is the individual’s character.

“It doesn’t matter if the new provost has talent, abilities, leadership skills, and is an accomplished researcher of scholar,” he said. “The character has to be there, particularly honesty. On top of the character, you can add the ability to lead and to enable. The provost needs to be somebody that’s not self-centered but is a service person, honest and helping the faculty to achieve goals.”

Tyrer said it is important for a provost to have contributed significantly to his or her academic field and have teaching and management experience.

“The person needs to be able to recognize problems and come up with creative solutions to those problems and concerns,” Tyrer said. “This person has to be a very good administrator, has to be a scholar and has to have the creativity and the intellect to be able to come up with new, novel and workable solutions.”

Faculty Council member Naresh Khatri said he believes that to lead, a provost must have attributes like intelligence, energy, open-mindedness, authenticity and integrity.

“The individual should have a broader strategic view of things rather than being a micromanager,” he said. “The individual needs to have a proper perspective of a comprehensive research university.”

O’Brien said he believes a mindset of service is essential for a provost.

“Effective provosts, just like good deans and department chairs, always remember that it's about others, not about them,” he said. “By this, I mean that good administrators always keep in mind that their No. 1 priority is to ensure that those they serve excel as teachers and researchers and have opportunities to teach really bright, motivated students.”

Filling in Foster’s shoes

Some faculty and administrators suggested one leader for the new provost to emulate might be his or her predecessor: Foster.

“Our immediate former provost, Brian Foster, allowed the deans to do their jobs,” O’Brien said. “He also made sure we worked together, and he fostered a sense of doing the job together. He had an open style that encouraged discussion and even dissension at times, which I found absolutely refreshing. When we came out of a rancorous meeting, we had had our say but still knew who the boss was and went on about our business. I have a lot of respect for that kind of leadership.”

Tyrer also pointed to Foster’s work in creating Mizzou Advantage.

The program is a collaboration among MU faculty, staff, students and external partners to solve problems in four issue areas: Food for the Future, Media of the Future, One Health/One Medicine and Sustainable Energy.

Tyrer said although the program brought some advantages to faculty, he said he believes it did not go far enough and contained “ill-conceived initiatives that really did not work.”

“While there have been some concerns with it, the fact is that there have been some benefits that have improved the university,” he said.

A full slate of challenges

The new provost would face a series of challenges related to the university budget and anxiety over MU’s standing in the Association of American Universities.

AAU is an association of top-tier research universities that meet strict standards by providing quality undergraduate education, pioneering research and offering notable graduate programs. MU is currently the only public member of AAU in Missouri.

Many faculty and administrators said they wish to see improvements to MU’s standing in the association.

Roberts said he believes the new provost must build a team of faculty members capable of raising MU’s standards to remain in the AAU.

“I believe the provost needs to go through all academic units, extension, colleges, schools and ask the hard questions,” he said. “Are these the people that can raise the bar, that can inspire and enable? Are these the right administrators, junior administrators included?”

Faculty Council member Tony Lupo also expressed wishes for the new provost to improve MU’s standings.

MU has many faculty members who could be fellows in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Lupo said, but the university has not been good at nominating potential members.

“This is important because scientists who are National Academy members are taken from this group,” he said. “These are intangibles that impact our AAU status.”

Another major challenge for the new provost will involve the annual 2 percent budget cut enacted under the MU Strategic Operating Plan, which hopes to bolster the university’s AAU metrics.

The current plan centers around four ideas the university wishes to invest in: human capital, infrastructure, metrics and implementation.

“The idea behind it is to reward 20 to 30 percent of faculty with raises while giving 0 percent raises to everyone else,” Faculty Council member Karen Piper said. “They want to keep the smartest faculty and save money to recruit faculty from elsewhere. The problem is that the administration is telling us that only 20 percent of us are worthwhile and the rest might as well leave.”

Khatri said he would like to see a plan that inspires rather than demoralizes faculty.

“The new provost needs to pay attention immediately to some new, well-meaning but somewhat flawed, initiatives to boost research productivity that are being implemented without taking in confidence the university faculty,” he said. “The university faculty members are highly knowledgeable, intelligent and thoughtful individuals, and thus should not be managed like manufacturing workers.”

Several university members also cited faculty morale problems as another major issue the new provost will need to address.

Faculty morale that stem from current problems with MUSOP, and Mizzou Advantage before it, will have to be dealt with by the new provost.

“It’s not horrible, but with all the reallocations, withholdings, et cetera, I think the faculty and staff would like a provost who is solid as a rock and has a steady hand,” O’Brien said. “Campus budgeting is a big issue, and the new provost certainly will play a significant role in that.”

Piper compared the current state of management at MU to that of a corporation, which she said contributes to issues with faculty and staff compensation.

“The consumer — student — pays more and the workers — faculty — are rewarded less every year,” she said. “This has been a serious problem for the past ten years, during which faculty salaries have been going down while the administration’s are going up. The provost and chancellor can blame the state, but as long as administration finds tens of millions to build new buildings, it’s hard to believe the state is the only problem.”

Piper said faculty feel they have no real power, due to lack of responses from administration on the issue of salary cuts.

“The chair of Faculty Council gave an impressive presentation about this matter at the last Faculty Council, but the lack of response reveals how little the administration listens to us, even though we are supposed to be ‘co-governing’ this university,” she said.

Tyrer said faculty morale is also lessened by controversy over recent raises.

“There is a lot of concern among the faculty about the recent raises that have been disproportionate,” he said. “There were a lot of people that got very small raises that are very productive in doing good things for our students, but not necessarily the things for which the raises were given.”

Tyrer said the new provost will also be tasked to work with Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin on budgeting for the university.

“There is an enormous amount of pressure nationally, within the state and within the (UM System) for budgets,” he said. “They need to be able to be creative and figuring out how to do great things with dwindling resources.”

Tyrer also addressed the university’s growth in juxtaposition to budget cuts.

“This institution has grown 50 percent in size in the last 10 years, and we have had a budget that has dropped 25 percent,” he said. “While students are getting hit with higher tuition, the state is not providing the funds that they need to provide in order to reduce student tuition.”

Director of Libraries Jim Cogswell said he hopes to see more funding go towards MU libraries.

“The libraries have been underfunded on campus for a good many years, and I'm hopeful that we can find ways to remedy that,” he said. “Improving the amount of funding that is distributed to the libraries would be a good way to improve the overall quality and stature of MU.”

Who are the candidates?

Michele Wheatly, former provost of West Virginia University, visited MU on Oct. 18 to speak to faculty and students. She said her experience at WVU, a major land-grant university, would help her fit in at MU.

“I don’t need to learn to become a provost,” Wheatly said. “I’m well connected around the nation. I would like the challenge of being at a better caliber institution, and I think this would be a good match.”

Wheatly emphasized the importance of faculty loyalty and diversity, and said she believes a more diverse faculty will lead to a more diverse student body.

“We have to create environments where people can be successful,” she said. “We want the university to be a place where all kinds of people can be intellectually challenged. If we don’t nurture people that are different, it’s all wasted.”

At her forum, Wheatly also discussed Title IX policies, the importance of gathering student feedback for university decisions and developing strategies to keep MU’s AAU standing.

John Wiencek, who is currently interim provost of Virginia Commonwealth University, visited campus on Oct. 29.

Wiencek emphasized the importance of communication and direct, empathetic confrontation. He said he has experience allocating funds to various departments and restructuring budgets during his previous administrative positions. He also discussed strategies to maintain a diverse, inclusive faculty.

In regard to Title IX policies on sexual violence, Wiencek said he believes it is important for all faculty to be direct reporters of violations and be able to guide students through the sometimes complicated procedures.

“This is a time of learning for higher education in how to handle things effectively,” he said. “The reason we got here is because we ignored the problem for a long time. We need to help the victims in the best way possible and have a process that is just.”

Regarding MU’s current AAU status, Wiencek said he believes the university should not focus on the ranking alone, but the core value of excellence and working to help students and advance the human condition.

“We have to make sure we are a destination university,” Wiencek said. “Why shouldn’t we be No. 1? We should always be seeking the best of ourselves and pushing others to seek the best of themselves.”

Nancy Brickhouse, deputy provost of the University of Delaware, visited MU on Nov. 5.

Brickhouse said she plans to use key membership metrics for the Association of American Universities as the benchmark to “reward faculty excellence,” although some faculty members are concerned that the metrics focus on those in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

“We use those benchmarks because we think they are good benchmarks,” Brickhouse said. “You wouldn’t want Missouri to lose its AAU standing. Member (universities) in the AAU are looked up to by the other universities in the country.”

Brickhouse said she resolved issues at UD similar to ones MU currently faces, such as faculty retention and raising funds to renovate buildings with structural deficits. She also discussed faculty shared governance of the university and her goals for Title IX reforms.

“When it comes to individual cases, we (the university) oftentimes are unable to talk about personnel information,” Brickhouse said. “What they need is a campus that understands what the policies and procedures are so when things come up about individual cases, they know what the university would have been required to have done to handle the case.”

Garnett Stokes, former interim president at Florida State University, was the final candidate to visit MU on Nov. 10.

Stokes discussed her experience building faculty morale during periods of budget cuts at FSU and Georgia, where she had previously been a faculty member and dean. She said she has a collaborative leadership style and is eager to get to know faculty, staff and students on campus.

“My strategy is always just to talk to small groups of faculty about where we’re going and what we can do,” Stokes said. “I’m a big believer in talking with people, gathering information from people, looking at data to drive decision-making. I like to communicate with people and I’m very straightforward.”

Stokes said that although FSU isn’t a land-grant university like MU, she has experience with community engagement and promoting relationships throughout the state. She also addressed the AAU evaluation metrics by explaining that she believes there are many important disciplines outside the STEM areas.

“A great university has strength across many different disciplines,” Stokes said. “It’s about recognizing what it is you need to focus on. Missouri needs to look at where it is and see if there’s something that needs to be tweaked that would move metrics to the other direction.”

Tyrer and Roberts both said they have been impressed by the candidates.

“I believe that this pool of provost candidates is excellent,” Roberts said. “Without naming a specific one, I would say some of the candidates showed the qualities of selflessness and humility. We’ll be fortunate to get one of these.”

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