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The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs met with University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel and the Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Search Advisory Committee Monday afternoon to discuss the selection of the new provost.  

Schlissel began the meeting by seeking input from SACUA on what the search committee should look for in a new provost. Schlissel welcomed SACUA’s advice not only on what qualifications the candidates should have, but also the issues to which they should be paying extra attention, particularly as a body that frequently interacts with the provost.

“I thought it would be valuable to have input from SACUA about what we should be paying closest attention to as we search for a new provost,” Schlissel said. “You’re amongst the group that interacts with the provost quite a bit … so your advice is particularly welcome.”

SACUA member John Lehman, a professor of biology, began the conversation by reading a list of questions he and the Academic Affairs Advisory Committee created. The committee hopes the questions will be used in the interviews of the candidates for provost. Its questions covered a broad range of topics, including what the candidate believes to be the purpose of the University and his or her vision for research and innovation at the University.

Lehman also stressed the importance of the future provost’s engagement with undergraduate education, considering the provost is currently the only individual with a responsibility for undergraduate education on campus. Lehman suggested asking whether the provost would like to expand that responsibility and if he or she would consider active involvement with students by teaching occasional undergraduate courses.

Schlissel responded enthusiastically to the AAAC’s list, saying the search committee has already spent time thinking about the provost’s relationship with undergraduate education.

“We were just talking about the issue of undergraduate education today,” Schlissel said. “All schools and colleges have structures that look after their undergraduate programs and deans respond on the school level. But the provost is really the integrator of undergraduate commitments across the campus.”

Other SACUA members posed their own questions regarding topics such as how the next provost will further the University’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan and interact with faculty governance.

Lehman stressed the importance of a communicative relationship between the provost and the faculty governance committees.

“The biggest complaints that have come forward historically … is too much decision making before consultation with the faculty,” Lehman said. “It’s come out as an issue, and you’re still going to find people complaining about this.” 

SACUA member Silke-Maria Weineck, a professor of German and comparative literature, posed concerns about how the next provost will lead the University through the current contentious political climate.

“It seems to me that we may be faced with a somewhat very hostile federal administration in the future,” Weineck said. “I would like to see a provost who has various game plans to (protect) our various vulnerabilities … Somebody who has had some serious experience interfacing with government would be useful, and possibly someone who knows the mind of conservatives.”

The conversation then turned to whether SACUA would prefer a candidate who already works for the University or someone from outside the community. SACUA Secretary David Potter, a professor of history and classical studies, highlighted the merits of both backgrounds, but said he ultimately felt an outside perspective could be good for the University.

“We’ve had two very successful internal candidates recently, following an extremely successful external candidate … but the perspective an outsider can bring (is) that we don’t necessarily need to do everything the same way all the time,” Potter said. “And I think, after a number of years of very good internal people, having an external candidate might be nice.”

Weineck disagreed with Potter, saying the new provost must have a knowledge of the University’s culture.

“With all of the new deans and with (Schlissel) still being a bit (new), I don’t think it’s strictly a question of inside or outside,” Weineck said. “I think we do need somebody who has an understanding of the identity of the University.”

The search committee has already had its first meeting and elicited the help of a search firm. The committee will accept applications and nominations until the end of the month, at which point it will begin confidential interviews of select applicants. A new provost is expected to be appointed before next year’s fall semester.

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