Retrospective: The Search for a Provost

“Choosing a provost will be the most important decision we make this year.”

I agree. And from those who engaged in the search in one way or another, I infer this agreement is widespread. With gratitude to all who participated, and in an effort to “pull back the veil,” I offer this retrospective as we await a final decision. You’ll find three sections below:

  1. Perspectives on informing and reacting to decisions
  2. The search process, including actions following the campus visits
  3. In appreciation

Perspectives on informing and reacting to decisions

In one telling of the “Blind Men and the Elephant” parable, the seer who resolves the dispute says “All of you are right. The reason each of you is telling it differently is because each of you touched a different part of the elephant…”

My touch on this elephant is from the perspective of the faculty member elected by senators to represent them this year and, as a result, asked by the president to chair this search committee. In both roles, I greatly appreciate what academics do. We assess, analyze, investigate, criticize, raise concerns, and argue. We seek evidence to inform our thinking; we recognize when our perspectives are limited; we listen and seek additional evidence and perspectives. It has been gratifying to see all this from my faculty colleagues – indeed, from the entire university community – throughout this year and this search.

CSU Channel Islands is an institution to which individuals are deeply committed. We care about the future of the institution and its ability to serve students: accordingly, we are anxious about the choice of our next provost. Yet we know how our university community best arrives at important decisions, and how we react. We assume best intentions from those engaged in decision making, delegate when appropriate, engage and provide feedback, and finally, accept decisions. We acknowledge that no choice of provost will please everyone. We recognize when we are touching only a piece of the elephant. Finally, we act in good faith. We support whomever is chosen, as we know the success of our next provost will play a large role in the success of Academic Affairs and of CI in continuing to make this institution one that truly serves its students, its future students, and the region.

The process

The search committee was formed in August and September, 2016, in accord with Senate Policy SP14-12. The committee comprised a student (Marlene Pelayo, Student Government Vice-President), staff (Alison Potter), a non-Academic Affairs administrator (Carrick DeHart), three faculty who self-nominated and were selected by Senate Exec and the president (Geoff Buhl, Dennis Downey, and Marie Francois), an administrator in Academic Affairs (Beth Hartung, Asst. Provost), the Chief of Staff (Genevieve Evans Taylor), and the Academic Senate Chair as chair of the search committee (Cindy Wyels). The search consultant firm, Academic Search, Inc., was chosen through a process of competitive bids from firms and interviews with those who’d worked with them: we specifically appreciated the work of senior consultant Ann Hasselmo, a former president and provost with a track record of developing academic leadership potential and cultivating diverse applicant pools.

Every person on the search committee reviewed well over one hundred cover letters and CVs – letters ranging in length from three densely packed pages to over twenty pages and CVs containing up to thirty pages of detailed accomplishments — as well as letters of nomination and recommendation. Over 50 candidates received at least one “let’s consider” vote during the paper stages of the process. Extensive in-person discussions resulted in a list of semi-finalists, all of whom participated in a thorough airport interview by the full committee, a separate video conference with President Beck, and a video conference with Cabinet. The five candidates who were selected for campus visits were chosen from the large and impressive field of applicants based on track records of accomplishments across their careers – particularly in relevant administrative roles. They were also selected on the basis of fit, and the synergy they might have with our campus and institutional culture. Prior to the visits each finalist underwent a deep background and reference check, the latter consisting of 8 – 10 interviews. The campus visits were 14-hour days that included small group meetings with the Cabinet, the Provost’s Council, the search committee, Student Government leaders, Senate Exec, the Provost’s Office staff, and Foundation Board members. Candidates made presentations in an all-faculty setting and a campus and community open forum, and took questions. They also met one-on-one with members of Cabinet and with President Beck.

Following the campus visits, the search committee, search consultants, and President Beck reviewed the campus feedback thoroughly and consulted with many who interacted with candidates during the visits. This step led to extensive follow-up: additional phone interviews with references, more conversations with candidates, etc. Questions raised from campus feedback were investigated as thoroughly as possible. When feedback indicated that staff were concerned about particular candidates’ modus operandi, we explored relationships with staff at their current and past institutions. When faculty-faculty networks left negative impressions, we further investigated candidates’ reputations at their institutions – and the reasons behind them. We dug deeper into changes in positions. Essentially, we took our collective unknowns and concerns and sought to resolve what we could. The result? Multiple outstanding candidates, each with a proven track record of moving his/ her piece of one or more institutions forward.

The next provost has a daunting task before him/ her. We knew that when we crafted the campus profile early in Fall ’16. (See p. 10 – 12 for a summation of what we sought in a provost.) We’ll soon learn who will be our next provost; I’m confident we’re ready to support that individual in the work of continuing to build our university.

In appreciation

I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the entire search committee for their commitment and hundreds of hours of work each on this search. Their dedication, their preparation and critical discussion were simply amazing. Our search consultants, Ann Hasselmo and Andrea Cowsert, were a huge help in every way, from logistics and extensive reference reports to providing guidance as we sorted through our thoughts. President Beck consulted extensively, seeking and incorporating the views of the search committee at every step of the process. A large proportion of the campus community stepped up to inform the profile and shape the search, then to engage with the final five candidates and provide feedback. And while many people, some unknown to me, supported this search from behind the scenes, Mary McDonnell is due special thanks for outstanding support, always done graciously and with a smile, even in times of stress.

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