Coming to a Close: Filling the Provost Seat

by Michevi Dufflart, Senior Writer

The search for a new provost is coming to an end. This week could mark the last week in the search, as two candidates are set to visit campus, each for a two-day interview period.

In September, the Office of the Provost informed the Manhattan College community via email that current provost, Dr. William Clyde, would step down from his position and continue full time teaching and research at the end of June 2020. Since then, the provost search committee, PSC, has worked diligently to find what President Brennan O’Donnell considers the college’s highest priority.

“There is no more important task facing us this year than this search…” said O’Donnell via email in October.

The provost is the second in command right after the president of a college. They serve as the chief academic officer, and are entrusted to coordinate and ensure the quality of all academic programs at Manhattan.

Nadia Itani, undergraduate and vice president for academic affairs on the student government executive board, emphasized the importance of this leadership role, saying, “The Provost … and the Office of the Provost [do] so much work to serve the students, making their experience here as positive as possible. So many parts of campus have this same goal, but the Provost has responsibilities that have an extremely direct effect on students, namely figuring out the logistics of Commencement every year.”

Applications for the provost position opened in early October and were due in late November. RH Perry & Associates, a higher education search consultant firm working with MC on the provost search, went through the applications, conducted interviews with applicants and then created a ranked list to be reviewed by the PSC.

Dr. Tim Ward, Dean of the School of Engineering and chair of the PSC noted the different rankings in the applications. “Typically, when you do an application at university level…you’re going to get applicants that you really want to talk to, you know, they have a lot of a lot of good qualifications, a lot of good experience, then you’re going to get some that maybe don’t rise to the same level, then you got some that are just really not qualified,” said Ward.

After the PSC reviewed the ranked list of applicants, a list of semi-finalists was determined mid-December and video interviews were conducted in late January. Ward described the process as very intensive due to the short time frame for all the semi-finalist interviews.

“[The interviews take] time and you try to get them all compressed into a short time period. You don’t want to drag it out for weeks because you want to be able to have everybody fresh in your mind,” said Ward.

Three finalists were selected from the group of semi-finalists: Dr. Heidi Bostic, Dr. Daniel May, and Dr. Maria Green Cowles. The on-campus interviews were set to begin last week with Bostic, but she accepted an offer from a different institution before the week began. The remaining two finalists, May and Cowles, are being interviewed this week.

May currently serves as the Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of New Haven, Conn. and received his Ph.D. from the University of California at Santa Barbara in Geology. Cowles is currently the Scholar-in-Residence at the American University in Washington, DC. and received her Ph.D from American University in International Relations.

Each candidate will go through a two-day interview process where they will meet with different stakeholders at the college this week. Some of the stakeholders include the president, students, faculty, trustees, and deans.

Faculty and students were encouraged to attend the open sessions to hear from the finalists. Shanice Lyle, the undergraduate student member of the PSC will lead both the student sessions for May and Cowles. The student sessions will be approximately an hour in length and give students the opportunity to meet the candidates and provide feedback for the PSC. To help facilitate conversation in the student sessions, Itani created a list of discussion topics and questions to give students a better understanding of the provost’s work and how the candidates will fulfill the requirements of the position.

Dean Ward also provided a Google Form for all stakeholders to fill out after each open session. The questions in the form include strengths and weaknesses and opinions about whether they think the candidate will be effective as provost based on the open session. The form also includes a section for further comments.

Itani stressed the impact of this feedback.

“Getting student feedback is so important because we are the ones affected by any administrative decisions and it’s best to have a positive relationship with those in charge of making those decisions,” said Itani.

Given that only two candidates remain, there is a possibility that at the conclusion of the interviews, the President, who has the ultimate decision on who gets chosen as the new provost, chooses neither. The process would then have to begin again. However, if one of the candidates is chosen, Dr. William Merriman, a professor in the Kinesiology Department and member of the PSC believes that the President could have a decision by the end of March. “There are a lot of provost jobs out there…So the longer [the President] waits, the people could take a job somewhere else,” said Merriman.

Merriman also previously served as interim provost before Clyde and offered insights about similarities and differences between the provost’s tasks then and now. One similarity that still remains is promoting enrollment.

In recent years, enrollment has been challenging for the college as noted in the decline of undergraduate students. In a Quadrangle article “College Enrolls Smaller Freshman Class Amid Demographic Changes,” published online on September 19, 2017, the number of undergraduate students enrolled was 3,463 and the optimum level was listed as an undergraduate enrollment of 3,400 to 3,600. The total number of undergraduates students currently enrolled is 3,316, a total decrease of 84 students since 2017.

Additionally, the college has recently seen a number of administrative jobs become available. The reasons for staff leaving, discussed by Merriman, vary and include things such as wanting to spend more time with families and accepting a higher paying job. Despite all this, one thing is for certain, and that is the need for a provost to facilitate these issues. “With all this turnover, the President really needs a strong number two to come in with experience, who can get in the job right away and know what to do,” said Merriman.

The interviews for the provost position will conclude at the end of this week. President O’Donnell will then review the feedback from all the stakeholders and consider his own interactions and knowledge, to decide if either candidate will be the new provost.