Former Ford School dean Susan Collins named acting provost

Thursday, January 30, 2020 - 11:47am

Susan Collins, left, speaks with Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen in 2017 as part of the Ford Policy Talks series.

Susan Collins, left, speaks with Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen in 2017 as part of the Ford Policy Talks series. Buy this photo
Amelia Cacchione/Daily

Susan M. Collins, former dean of the Ford School of Public Policy, was named acting provost of the University of Michigan Thursday morning. This announcement comes after Martin Philbert was placed on leave last week following multiple allegations of sexual misconduct.

Collins, who currently serves as a professor in the Ford School and LSA, will assume the post immediately. In an email to The Daily, Collins said she was eager to take on the new role.

“I am grateful for this opportunity to serve the university community,” Collins wrote. “My immediate focus will be supporting the important academic-focus of the Office of the Provost, which touches the lives of all our students, members of the faculty and those who support our academic enterprise.”

University President Mark Schlissel told The University Record he was grateful to Collins for agreeing to fill the position.

“I’m incredibly appreciative of Dr. Collins and her willingness to accept this crucial appointment,” Schlissel said. “With a decade of service as the Ford School’s dean and experience partnering with the Office of the Provost, she is well positioned to lead the office at this challenging time.”

In an interview with The Daily on Tuesday, Schlissel noted the importance of ensuring University hires do not have a history of sexual misconduct. He shared a need to have someone with an understanding of the role and previous experience in higher education.

“In terms of moving forward, the University, you know, really has to have a provost in place,” Schlissel said on Tuesday. “Right now, Im in the process of looking at people who have administrative experience and familiarity, because they sort of have to take over all at once, although Ill be working with them very closely.”

Collins was the Joan and Sanford Weill Dean of Public Policy for 10 years. When she left her post in 2017, Collins described her efforts to improve the school’s visibility in a farewell letter.

“I was a really staunch supporter that you don’t talk until you have something to say — you don't want to be known as the wind bag; you want to be known for having done the analysis, for having depth of understanding of what the challenges are,” Collins wrote. “It’s one of the reasons I've always cared about having a foot in academia, because that's one of the things academics stand for.”

Collins also sits on the Board of Directors for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and is a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard University and a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has taught at Harvard and Georgetown University, during which time she was also a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution.

Currently, Collins oversees a global engagement seminar that takes 15 undergraduates to Costa Rica to study prevalent policy issues in the Central American country. In a message to students, she confirmed she will continue to teach the course and will still travel with the class to Costa Rica over spring break.

Public Policy senior Brianna Wells took the course with Collins last year. Wells said she found Collins to be personable and is excited for her to take on the role.

“She definitely pushes you to be a better student and has really high standards for quality,” Wells said. “For part of the class we went to Costa Rica over spring break and she’s a really great professor in the classroom, but then I just realized how good of a person she is on a personal level. She’s very kind, very understanding and cares about students.”

As acting provost, Collins fills the position Philbert vacated earlier this month. Philbert was placed on administrative leave Jan. 21 after multiple allegations of sexual assault were reported to the University on Jan. 16-17. An investigation is currently underway.

The provost is the second-highest ranking official at the University and the chief academic officer. The provost works with the president to determine the University’s academic goals and distribute resources to achieve these goals. The provost previously oversaw the Office of Institutional Equity, which investigates sexual misconduct allegations, though this duty has been moved to Richard S. Holcomb, associate vice president for Human Resources.

This article has been updated with a quote from Collins and a former student.

News Editor Alex Harring can be reached at harring@umich.edu