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University to appoint interim provost

By Joseph Lichterman, Editor in Chief
Published November 30, 2012

With University Provost Philip Hanlon set to assume the presidency at Dartmouth College in July, the University will have to select a new provost as it also prepares to launch a search for University President Mary Sue Coleman’s successor.

On Thursday, Coleman wrote in a campus-wide e-mail that she would name an interim provost in the coming weeks, and several administrators and University regents said they expect Coleman, whose contract will expire in 2014, to appoint an interim provost until her successor can make a permanent selection.

Regents Katherine White (D–Ann Arbor) and Denise Ilitch (D–Bingham Farms) each said they expect the University will hire an interim provost until the next president is appointed. Both said they’ve told Coleman that they would like her to hire an interim provost.

“I'm a sports person, so I really respect the ability of a person, a professional, a coach so to speak, to put their team together,” Ilitch said. “I have a lot of respect for that.”

The University declined to comment on the timetable for when an interim provost will be named, and White and Ilitch both said they were unaware if a search committee had been formed.

In 2010, Coleman chose Hanlon to become provost without forming a search committee or consulting with a search firm only two weeks after his predecessor, Teresa Sullivan, announced she would leave to become president at the University of Virginia.

James Duderstadt, the University’s president from 1988 to 1996 who also served as provost, said it’s critical for the provost and president to have a strong working relationship.

“One of the challenges, of course, is the president and provost form a very important team, and typically you want the president to have a significant influence over the provost that she or he will work with,” Duderstadt said in an interview. “Since (Coleman) is approaching the end of her tenure at Michigan, she’ll probably appoint an interim provost. The next permanent provost will most likely be chosen by the next president.”

While the president’s main focus is generally promoting the University externally — to donors, government officials, alumni and others — the provost typically works internally and is responsible for the University’s academic budget and the University’s dean’s report to the provost.

“It takes a very intimate relationship between the provost and the president to balance the inside and the outside and to make sure the university stays on a stable course,” Duderstadt said. “That’s why the decision of picking a provost is very much a decision that needs to be made by the president.”

Working in an interim capacity before becoming the University’s provost from 2002 to 2005, Paul Courant, now the dean of libraries, said he helped Coleman adjust to the presidency when she first arrived in Ann Arbor from the University of Iowa in 2002.

“I was able to introduce her, as it were, to the campus and introduce the campus to her,” Courant said. “I think that was useful to her.”

Courant said he had no direct knowledge of the search process, but noted the candidate for interim provost would “certainly be an insider” as opposed to someone hired from outside the University in order to ease the transition.

Historically, the University has promoted from within whenever it chooses a new provost. Sullivan, who came to the University in 2006 from the University of Texas, was the first provost hired from outside the University since at least the 1940s, Duderstadt said.

Because provosts at the University have many responsibilities — serving as both the chief academic and budgetary officer — it’s often helpful to appoint someone to the position who already has an understanding of how the institution works, Duderstadt said.

“(Sullivan) demonstrated in a very convincing way that you can come from outside and provide able leadership,” Duderstadt said.