Among other administrator changes, Provost Stearns to step down in 2013


In this video still, Mason's longtime Provost Peter Stearns encourages faculty participation in The Hunt. (Jake McLernon)

Provost Peter Stearns plans to step down from his role as George Mason University’s senior academic administrator in the summer of 2013 and transition into full-time teaching with the history department, according to a Nov. 8 interview.

The transition in senior administrators will occur one year after Mason’s President Alan Merten steps down from his long-held position. Had Merten followed earlier plans to remain a year longer, Stearns said he would have retired at the end of this academic year, in order to ease senior-level administrative transitions.

“If Merten had retired in 2013, I would have retired this year, believing that two retirements at the same time a bad idea,” said Stearns. “So I adjusted my plans when he changed his.”

Stearns, who became provost in 2000 after years of teaching at Harvard University, the University of Chicago, Rutgers and Carnegie Mellon, said that he hopes the new president will find the one-year overlap “desirable,” and additionally, that it would be “appropriate” for Merten’s successor to have a year to find a new provost.

The outgoing provost, whose position oversees all academic affairs at the university, is just one of several key administrators whose positions will need to be filled within the next two years, in addition to the university's current search for its next president.

Tom Hennessey, the university president’s chief of staff, will leave his position in May, alongside Merten. The provost’s office is also searching for a new associate vice president for enrollment management position, a new position vacated this summer by long-time Dean of Admissions Andrew Flagel, now at Brandeis University. There is also a search for a new vice provost for academic affairs, a position which will be vacated by Linda Schwartzstein, who is returning to faculty, according to Press Secretary Dan Walsch.

Additionally, in preparation for the departure of both the longtime president and provost, the provost’s office has been working for two years to make sure that other transitions, like that of department deans, were “appropriately arranged,” according to Stearns. 

Two dean searches are currently underway at Mason. Both Lloyd Griffiths, dean of the Volgenau School of Information Technology & Engineering, and Shirley Travis, Dean of the School of Health and Human Services, plan to retire, according to Walsch.

New deans for both positions should be “locked up” early in the new year, according to Stearns.

When Merten arrived in the late ‘90s, he was faced with seven to eight academic dean searches, according to Stearns.

“It was something that was just thrust on him,” said Stearns. “We’ve been working to avoid that.”

More departures are possible. University Senior Vice President Maurice Scherrens, who is married to Senior Vice President of University Life Sandra Scherrens, is one of three finalists being considered for a university presidency at Pennsylvania’s Edinboro University.

“[The climate of transition] is a little bit more disrupted than I expected because there is a bit more movement beyond the president than I expected,” said Stearns.

Despite the additions to what Stearns called “campus nervousness” surrounding more possible departures, a “tough” debate on search confidentiality, and a sense that “things are in flux,” Stearns is optimistic. A new president should have some agenda item that’s a little different, according to Stearns, but the outgoing provost said he would be “really surprised” if someone came in wanting to make massive changes.

“When Merten arrived, he had a lot of organizational stuff to clean up,” Stearns said. “A new president won’t have that. There’s no need, at least, to think about restructuring the academic units.”

“I really believe that we have such a good academic trajectory on the whole that I don’t expect disruptive change,” Stearns said.

The provost said while he would be available to the new provost “as he or she wishes,” but will launch “no independent initiatives.” While he plans no involvement with the Faculty Senate, a group that frequently interacts with the provost’s office, Stearns said he will maintain a “friendly interest.”


Editor's Note, 6:37 a.m. 10/18/2011: An earlier version of this piece said that Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Linda Schwartzstein is retiring, according to Press Secretary Dan Walsch. She is returning to faculty, according to Walsch.


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