Town hall sheds some light on the ongoing search for a new provost

In August, approaching the end of a ten-year term in office, Provost James O’Donnell announced his decision to step down from the position at the end of this semester. Last night, the University’s provost search committee convened a town hall of students, faculty and administrators to discuss its search for a new provost. The town hall was organized to provide students with an opportunity to provide input in the search process. At least thirty students were in attendance.

Professor Wayne Davis, the President of the Faculty Senate, the Chair of the Philosophy Department and the head of the search committee, began the event with a long description of the various qualifications necessary to become the provost of the University, as well as the responsibilities the job entails. The provost has a hand in nearly every important department at Georgetown. He or she is a part of the President’s cabinet and is responsible for making sure the main campus operates within University policy. Other responsibilities include deciding where tuition is spent, approving appointments for both tenured and non-tenured faculty, meeting with the deans of each school, receiving direct reports from the Office of Admissions, the Registrar, the Financial Aid office, Student Affairs, the libraries, the Office of International Programs, and many other departments.

Davis highlighted several important qualifications the search committee expects from candidates for the position. The group is primarily searching for academic excellence. “Given that the provost has the ultimate responsibility for hiring faculty and deciding on priorities for spending money on various initiatives, I would want somebody who had lived the life of a successful scholar,” Davis said. The second important requirement is experience with administration, and the third priority is “an academic leader who can represent that and embody…Georgetown’s Jesuit identity”. Although Davis mentioned that they are open to non-Jesuit candidates, only one provost in the University’s history was neither a Jesuit nor Catholic.

While Davis spoke at length about the qualifications for and responsibilities of the position, the specifics of the search process were not discussed. One of the primary reasons for this secrecy is that many potential candidates currently hold important job positions at other universities. Currently the search committee has a list of forty potential candidates, according to Davis, and by March the group plans to narrow the list and present three final candidates to President John DeGioia.

At the town hall, students raised questions to Davis ranging from the transparency of the selection process to the importance the future provost will place on promoting diversity.

When GUSA Vice President Greg Laverriere asked about the transparency and responsiveness of the provost, Davis responded, “the deans are the primary student contact. The Provost’s main function is to support the deans, to support the faculty…not everybody has the primary responsibility of meeting with the students.”

Given the relative secrecy of the selection process, the role of students in the provost search is minimal to none. When asked about the role of students beyond the town hall, Davis struggled to find a response.

In an interview with campus media last week, DeGioia described what will happen once the search committee concludes its work:

Their job is to identify approximately three, not more than five, candidates to submit to me for consideration for the position of Provost. And then, it’s my decision, to work from that pool that they give to me. We charged the committee in the early part of the fall, and the expectation is they will submit their unranked candidates to me, the three candidates that they believe are all qualified to be in the role, to me generally mid to latter part of March. And then it’s my job to bring it to closure, and if all goes well I bring it to closure in April, and the person starts on July 1. And that’s the typical process, and we’re tracking that now. And that would have been the process we would have used a year ago for the deans in the Nursing and Health Studies and SFS-Q and in the business school. And all of those kind of followed that trajectory…. The goal is to have somebody live on the ground for July 2012.

2 Comments on “Town hall sheds some light on the ongoing search for a new provost

  1. It is worth noting that there were over 60 students in attendance.

  2. It is worth noting that it wasn’t his decision to stand down. He was canned.

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