The search for the University of Minnesota’s second-in-command is down to four.
Finalists to become the next senior vice president for academic affairs and provost made their pitches to the University community over the past week.
Anything that has to do with academics — from curriculum changes to hiring deans — falls under the provost’s jurisdiction, said Tom Sullivan, the outgoing senior vice president and provost.
Sullivan announced in February his plans to step down at the end of the fall semester.
Every year, deans from the University’s 20 different schools and heads of about 10 departments report to the provost, who makes the top-level decisions that connect them.
The University received about 50 applications. From there, it chose 16 to visit campus for interviews in August. Sixteen became five, and each finalist was scheduled to visit for forums this week and last. It was announced Sunday that one candidate dropped out before being publicly named.
The search committee will compile information from the four candidate forums and present it to President Eric Kaler, who is expected to make a decision within a month, said Tim Mulcahy, the University’s vice president for research and head of the provost search committee.
The new provost will take office at the beginning of 2012.
Half of the candidates come from inside the University. Including Sullivan, the last five senior vice presidents for academic affairs were selected from within the University.
“It’s anybody’s game,” Mulcahy insisted. “There are those who would argue being on the same campus is a natural advantage.”
But internal candidates also have a history with the people at the school, which could in turn be a disadvantage, he added.
Here’s a rundown of each of the four candidates and their forums.
Dean, College of Biological Sciences
University of Minnesota
Robert Elde said he’s not typically a “doomsday” person, but he opened his forum by saying that higher education is facing “troubling and trying times.”
Elde is a neuroscience professor and the dean of the College of Biological Sciences, a position he has held for more than 16 years. He has been at the University for 34 years.
He is primarily concerned with decreased public support and interest to fund the University.
“It’s part of the agenda that’s dividing the country as to what we value and what we will pay for as citizens of this country,” Elde said.
George Wilcox, a neuroscience professor, has worked with Elde since Elde came to the University.
He said Elde has facilitated an inter-university collaboration with Karolinska University in Stockholm and that Elde is “very receptive to that kind of collaboration.”
Elde said he wants the University to become a “destination” school by developing more programs like “Nature of Life,” a three-day course required of all incoming CBS freshmen at Lake Itasca.
“We’ve got to be persuasive that we’ve got the stuff that you can’t find anywhere else,” he said.
Elde has worked under four different provosts at the University. That experience would help him synthesize the best practices to attain the goals of the president, he said.
He received his bachelor’s degree in natural science from Chicago’s North Park College in 1969 and his doctorate in anatomy from the University in 1974.
Dean, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences
University of Minnesota
As the director of the Minnesota Obesity Center, Allen Levine’s call for redefined budgets for centers and institutes at the University comes from experience.
“We can’t just keep on sucking colleges dry so they have no funding,” he said.
The University should define how much the central administration should cost and impose discipline, he said.
Levine has been the dean of the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences since 2006. He has worked at the University since 1981 and believes it is time to take a collaborative approach.
“The future is interdisciplinary,” Levine said. “We have to find a way to do this.”
Not only does Levine have a history of collaborating with other departments at the University, he has a habit of working with people over the course of decades.
Blake Gosnell was a postdoctoral candidate under Levine in 1982 and has since worked with him on a number of research projects.
Gosnell said Levine’s ability to work well with people makes him a natural for the provost position.
“I really don’t know that he’s made any enemies along the way,” said Gosnell, who’s now a research professor at the University.
At his public forum Thursday, Levine stressed that engagement in the community is important to prove the value of the University as a common good.
Levine received his master’s degree in botany from the University in 1973 and his doctorate in nutrition in 1977. He completed his bachelor’s degree in botany at Rutgers University in 1970.
In addition to his 30 years at the University, Levine worked at the Minneapolis Veterans Administration Medical Center from 1978 to 2004 as a research chemist.
Karen Hanson is currently executive vice president of Indiana University and provost of its Bloomington campus.
She emphasized the need to use the University’s urban setting to build partnerships between the school and its community. Businesses need a strong education system, she said, and they should be willing to invest in it.
As provost at Indiana University-Bloomington, Hanson meets regularly with student groups and makes use of student, faculty and staff taskforces, she said. Ideas from the taskforces — like better student advising and digital textbooks — provided a framework to improve the University.
While Hanson acknowledged the importance of math, science and engineering to a research institution like the University, she said the liberal arts feel “under attack.” Educated in philosophy, she stressed the importance of humanities, which “add meaning to life,” she said.
“That’s a case that will have to be made again and again.”
She completed a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and mathematics at the University in 1970 and received adoctorate in philosophy from Harvard University in 1980.
Dean of Faculty of Arts and Science Washington University in St. Louis
Gary Wihl considers himself a product of public education, despite having spent the last 10 years employed at private universities.
He attended college on a combination of scholarships, work-study funds and loans. He made it clear that he considers financial aid a priority.
As the dean of the faculty of arts and sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, Wihl said he donates 30 percent of his salary to aid undergraduates.
In order to retain undergraduates at a university of this scale — which had roughly four times as many undergraduates as his current school, according to fall 2010 enrollment statistics — Wihl wants to increase the student to-faculty-ratio through freshman seminars and independent study.
Wihl said the challenge is to make sure students aren’t lost in the size of the school and class options.
“I think it trumps, in my view, just about every other issue that attaches to undergraduate education,” Wihl said.
He said he also hopes to “break away from the pack” with an interdisciplinary approach to graduate programs.
“He really focused on a certain number of high-profile matters, and that paid off,” said professor Joe Manca, who worked closely with Wihl during his six years as dean at Rice University.
“I think one perspective that I bring to a job like this is the fact that I can translate well between different sectors of the University,” Wihl said, stressing his interdisciplinary work between areas like business and medicine.
Wihl earned his doctorate in English from Yale University in 1983. He earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from McGill University in Quebec in 1976 and 1978, respectively.
Balancing challenge and opportunity
Sullivan, too, suspects collaboration will play a big role at the University in the years ahead. But interdisciplinary work is often hard for individual deans to achieve. Coordinating work between colleges and departments will be a big part of the next provost’s job, he said.
The next provost will oversee the University-wide accreditation slated for 2015 — a major evaluation of programs, Sullivan said. Keeping sight of academic priorities amid a constrained budget and the possibility of more state cuts will factor heavily into the next provost’s term.
Sullivan looks forward to a year-long sabbatical, after which he will return to teaching at the Law School.
A provost needs to manage opportunities and challenges to propel the University forward, Sullivan reflected.
“It’s a great position,” he said.
Nominate an exceptional graduating senior for the upcoming Ski-U-Mah Issue!
UMN students have traveled to Florida colleges to collaborate with students on various projects.
When UMN students plan for a vacation, having trip cancellation travel insurance is a worthwhile commodity to check out.
Minneapolis Used Cars
Give back to the Minnesota community with a boat donation at boat4causes.org.
If you have been involved in a car accident call a Philadelphia Car Accident Lawyer for a free consultation.