Provost search committee chairman hosts open forum

Professor T. Mills Kelly answers questions from students, faculty, and staff (photo by Vernon Miles).
Professor T. Mills Kelly answers questions from students, faculty, and staff (photo by Vernon Miles).

The search for a new provost to replace Peter Stearns, who has held the position since 2000, is underway. Professor T. Mills Kelly, the chair of the Provost Search Committee, hosted a forum October 24th to discuss the search with the public.

“It’s a chance for me and others in the search committee to hear feedback,” Kelly said.

The committee consists of 15 members, including two students. Jordan Foster, the President of the Student Body, represents the undergraduate population. Kathryn Seipel, Graduate and Professional Student Association Representative, represents the graduate student population. The committee first selected an executive search firm, Greenwood-Asher & Associates, to find potential candidates for the position. The firm is self-described as “woman-owned” and specializes in diversity of candidates. Greenwood-Asher was previously contracted by Mason for the Presidential search and recruitment of President Ángel Cabrera.

“They listen to us,” Kelly said, “they listen to the charge of the president and the committee, and they have a working network of contacts.”

When asked about the president’s charge, Kelly elaborated on what Cabrera had told the committee.

“President [Cabrera] talked about where he thought GMU was and about some of the challenges like the higher education market influx with a growing global market, and as online becomes a factor we need someone who has able to think about that,” Kelly said. “Over the next decade we will double our funded research. We need someone who can think creatively about formal learning in the classroom and informal learning across campus.”

Once Greenwood-Asher has compiled a list of potential candidates, the search committee meets with them for a prospect review meeting, where the firm narrows the search to those who merit serious consideration. Over the Winter break, between ten to fifteen candidates are flown into the area for screening.

Candidates are kept confidential until the final stage of the selection process. However, Mills added the unlikely possibility that a candidate may decline to make the public appearance and still be selected as provost, which drew criticism from the forum.

“The faculty said the Provost should be required to make a public presentation,” said Susan Trencher, an Associate Professor and a Chair of the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate, “The firm and Board of Visitors decided to go private. The people raising the money have golden parachutes. If they aren’t obliged to make a public presentation, what we’re saying is their career is more significant than our welfare.”

Kelly acknowledged the criticism but emphasized that such circumstances would be highly unlikely. The private option was allowed so deans from other schools could keep their anonymity.

“What we learned is: provosts don’t apply for provost jobs,” Kelly said, “they either become president or they go back to being faculty. Most typically, provosts are selected from a pool of deans.”

The committee wasn’t ruling out deans from smaller schools, but was gearing the search more towards those with experience at universities like Mason.

“They should be someone with experience at a large institution,” Kelly said. “Someone used to dealing with 30 reports would have a hard time making a case.”

Like parking on campus, finding a Provost who meets every qualification can be impossible, but timing is important. Kelly added that the there are few ongoing provost searches, which gave Mason the benefit of limited competition.

The new provost is expected to be selected in February.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (3 votes)
Student Media Group: