Monday, April 21, 2014

Advertise with us »

Picking the new provost

Marissa McClain/Daily
Buy this photo

By Kyle Swanson, Daily News Editor
Published September 12, 2010

When news broke earlier this year that former University Provost Teresa Sullivan would be leaving to ascend to the presidency at the University of Virginia in August, one question rang in offices from the Duderstadt Center to the Fleming Administration Building to Wolverine Tower — who would take her place?

And while a list of possible successors could have included hundreds of well-qualified administrators from other schools across the country — or the more unconventional choice of an industry-outsider with extensive business experience — University President Mary Sue Coleman didn’t hesitate one bit when making her selection. She chose Phil Hanlon.

The choice was made without a lengthy search or nomination process. The University didn’t hire a headhunter. Less than two weeks from when Sullivan was publicly named Virginia’s next president, Hanlon was named her replacement.

Considering the enormous responsibilities placed in the hands of the provost — serving as both the University’s chief academic officer and chief budget officer — the choice is one that couldn’t be rushed. And according to Coleman, it wasn’t. To her, the choice clear from the moment news broke that Sullivan was leaving.

“When Terry left, I started thinking about whether there were internal candidates who could step up,” Coleman said in an interview last week from her second-story office in the Fleming Administration Building. She explained that she discussed the possibility of promoting Hanlon with regents, deans and executive officers early on.

Coleman admitted, though, that one factor in her decision was a grave concern that the University might lose both Hanlon and Sullivan at the same time.

“I was well aware that he was a candidate at other places and was being recruited by other people we respect, other institutions that we respect,” she said, acknowledging that at the time Hanlon was a finalist for the provost position at the University of North Carolina and was being recruited elsewhere.

“That also factored into my thinking,” Coleman continued with a laugh. “I thought, 'Hmm, maybe we have someone here that we should turn to because others are interested in him too.'”


For as much responsibility as he shoulders, Phil Hanlon's name and title — Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs — arent readily recognizable or well understood by many on campus.

This reflects primarily the amount of work the provost conducts behind the scenes — often trapped on the third floor of Fleming in a seemingly endless stream of appointments and meetings.

However, the provost does escape the confines of his 15’ x 15’ office and his 10-person conference room more often than one might think, frequently attending meetings, receptions and events elsewhere on the University’s campus.

Yet, for as much grinning and hand shaking as Hanlon may do and as many presentations as he may give, the lack of name recognition on campus for the post of University Provost and the man who now holds the position isn’t surprising. To some degree, it also has to do with the personality often found in the individuals who hold the position, a personality that is exemplified in Hanlon's personality.

His personality is exemplified by sense of duty through servant leadership and it’s clear that Hanlon, like many of his predecessors and peers at other universities across the country, sets aside his own interests to genuinely consider different perspectives.

Leaning back in his chair during a recent meeting with a group of his senior staff to discuss strategic planning initiatives, Hanlon was comfortable listening to the group’s opinions before verbalizing any of his own. Then, leaning forward and putting his arms straight in front of himself on the table, Hanlon shared his own ideas.

But his philosophy of inclusion, and the value he places on making sure issues are given the proper consideration, means he doesn’t stop there.