Though yesterday’s announcement of University Provost Teresa Sullivan’s successor came sooner than many on campus expected, the choice of Philip Hanlon as the next provost was something few found surprising.
For many on campus, the choice of Hanlon, who currently serves as vice provost of academic and budgetary affairs and is a professor of mathematics, seemed a logical one. What surprised some was that the announcement came a mere two weeks after Sullivan announced she would be leaving the University to become president of the University of Virginia.
University administrators said in a series of interviews yesterday that Hanlon’s selection as Sullivan’s eventual successor was in the works before anyone knew whether Sullivan would be chosen for the presidency at the University of Virginia.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily yesterday, University President Mary Sue Coleman said she had known Sullivan would be leaving for “quite a long time” before it became public and she began the process of looking for Sullivan’s successor as quickly as possible.
“I had started considering this actually about a month ago and had started just as soon as I could — I certainly couldn’t reveal anything about Terry — but getting input from people,” Coleman said.
To complicate the situation further, the University was in the midst of a retention battle with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill over Hanlon. According to UNC’s website, Hanlon was one of four finalists for the executive vice chancellor and provost position at its institution before he withdrew his name and was named the next University of Michigan provost.
“Dr. Hanlon has withdrawn consideration to accept another position,” a statement on UNC-Chapel Hill’s website stated.
Coleman said the very real possibility of losing Hanlon was a major factor in why she acted so quickly to name Sullivan’s replacement.
“His candidacy at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill put things in a very tight timeframe,” she said.
Hanlon’s institutional knowledge made him essential to retain in the Office of Provost, Coleman said.
“That was one of the key factors in the decision, because I think inevitably if you do a national search it takes a year, and I was very concerned about losing the whole brain trust of the budget construction, which is in Phil Hanlon’s bailiwick along with Terry Sullivan,” Coleman said.
In fact, Coleman said the reason she consulted privately with leaders on campus — as opposed to forming a search committee — was, at least in part, because she feared losing Hanlon to UNC.
“All my time, basically over the last two weeks, has been devoted to this,” Coleman said. “I didn’t have a search committee. I was trying to get as much input as I could because I knew I didn’t have the luxury of time.”
“If it hadn’t been for his candidacy elsewhere and the risk of losing him,” Coleman said before stopping mid-sentence and pondering whether under different circumstances she would have considered a national search. “Whether I would have done an internal search or a national search, that was a question I actually thought about but didn’t end up confronting because of the timeline I had with (Hanlon).”
In the end, Coleman said she was very happy that Hanlon agreed to stay at the University and accept the position as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.
“I wanted us to have a lot of experience in that office, and so I was thrilled that he agreed to accept the position,” she said. “I think it will be a very smooth transition in a time when we all know the state is going to be facing some real budget challenges, and we’ve got to keep the University strong.”
In an interview with the Daily yesterday, Hanlon said he feels honored to have the opportunity to serve as the next University provost.
“I’m excited to the join the team in this new role,” Hanlon said. “It’s a point in time where the University is facing some really interesting challenges and opportunities and there’s just a terrific leadership team in place at the University all the way from the president, Board of Regents, executive officers and deans all the way down.”
Hanlon said once Coleman had inquired about his interest in the position, he didn’t have to think very hard before he decided to accept the offer.
“I thought I was probably one of the people who was in a position to move easily into the role, just because of the work I’ve been doing,” Hanlon said. “So I wasn’t entirely surprised, but of course there are lots of very talented people who can do this job, both here and nationally. So I was flattered that she was talking to me.”
And despite the natural fit, Hanlon said he hadn’t really ever thought about becoming the University’s provost until after Sullivan announced her intention to leave the University this summer.
“This actually happened pretty quickly,” he said. “I really didn’t give much thought to who would be her successor until that moment when (Sullivan) made the announcement.”
Hanlon said following the announcement, Coleman contacted him to gauge his interest in the position.
“President Coleman actually contacted me pretty quickly after that to explore my interest. It’s a really exciting opportunity,” Hanlon said. “I was pretty excited by the opportunity when it was presented.”
Though less than 24 hours after being officially named the University’s next provost, Hanlon admitted he’s already thinking about possible changes he may make after taking the reins.
While he considers those possibilities, Hanlon said he will continue to have a lot of work to do in his current job.
“Well, I have to do my current job,” he said. “I have to help the provost, the president and the regents put together a budget for next year.”
Aside from his current duties, Hanlon said he would also begin conversations with students, faculty and staff about the future to better prepare him in planning for when he assumes the role of provost.
In addition, Hanlon said he would need to begin searching for someone to take over his current position of vice provost of academic and budgetary affairs.
And while he says he’s already thinking about potential changes, Hanlon said he believes the University is in a good enough position that major changes are not necessary.
“The University of Michigan is a very high performing university,” Hanlon said. “I see opportunities, I see challenges that I’d like to work on, but I think a radical transformation of the University is not called for at this point.”
In interviews with the Daily yesterday, several regents and University officials praised Hanlon’s selection, saying his previous experience would be a tremendous asset to the University.
Dean of Libraries Paul Courant, who served as University provost from 2002 to 2005, said he was very pleased with yesterday’s announcement.
“It’s a very good appointment,” Courant said. “I think it’s important and good for the University that there be continuity in the office.”
Though some may view the search as having a quick turnaround, Courant said there’s really no typical time period for a search of this nature.
“There is no normal. Sometimes there is an elaborate national search for a position like this — in fact there was a big search when Provost Sullivan was named,” he said. “Not uncommonly, a president will look around, consult with some people and make an appointment of somebody who is here and ready to do the job.”
Courant was provost when Hanlon first joined the provost’s office staff. Even at that time, Courant said he believed Hanlon may one day be a university provost.
“It’s not uncommon for people to roll from that position to a provost position here or elsewhere,” Courant said. “Part of what you’re doing when you hire a person into a job at that level is thinking about whether this is someone who can move even further. But it’s by no means a sure thing.”
However, Courant — who made the same transition from vice provost to provost — said the new position will be a significant change for Hanlon.
“A big difference is the provost is a much more public figure than the vice provost for budget,” Courant said.
“The vice provost for budget does a lot of important work, insiders know who he or she is and all that, but when you’re the provost you’re the chief academic officer of this great university and you’re always speaking for the University and it’s quality wherever you are, whatever you’re doing,” Courant continued. “It’s a bigger job.”
Despite the differences Hanlon will face in his new position, Courant said he expects Hanlon will rise to the occasion.
“I expect he’ll do very well in this job,” Courant said.
Regent Andrea Fischer-Newman (R–Ann Arbor) said in an interview yesterday that despite the relatively quick turnaround she felt the decision was appropriate, since Coleman had likely been planning for such a scenario in advance.
“This is something that probably didn’t come as a surprise,” Newman said. “(Coleman and Sullivan) didn’t sit down one day two weeks ago and say ‘Hey, what should we do? Let’s go look.’
“Terry is a very attractive candidate, as are others for other jobs, and education headhunters are everywhere,” Newman said. “I think this is a natural thing to do.”
Newman added that based on her conversations with Coleman prior to the announcement, she believed Coleman was very passionate about Hanlon’s selection.
“Based on what she told me, she felt very strongly about it,” Newman said. “I think she was very comfortable with this decision very quickly.”
Regent Julia Darlow (D–Ann Arbor) told the Daily yesterday that she too was very happy Hanlon would be the next provost.
“We couldn’t be more fortunate that he’s here and has accepted the position,” Darlow said.
Darlow said Hanlon’s experience, which includes working in the Office of the Provost for the last several years, will help Hanlon to make a quick transition.
“Among the tremendous assortment of qualities he brings is his expertise of the budget,” she said. “It’s more than hitting the ground running, he’s already running on the budget issues.”
Darlow added that Hanlon will bring other assets to the table, including a wealth of institutional knowledge and quality relationships with University leaders.
“He has tremendous respect from the faculty and the whole University community,” Darlow added.
Regent Andrew Richner (R–Grosse Pointe Park), who currently serves as the chair of the Board of Regents, cited similar qualifications and said he wholeheartedly supports choosing Hanlon as the next provost.
“Of course I know Phil well, and I’ve worked closely with him over the years through his position in the provost’s office, and in my opinion, Mary Sue has chosen wisely,” Richner said. “He is, in one word, brilliant.”
Richner added that, given the high caliber of faculty and staff at the University, choosing an internal candidate made sense in this case.
“We’re fortunate to have the depth of talent that we do within the provost’s office and within the University as a whole,” Richner said. “Given that we have that talent from which to draw, it makes sense the way this decision was arrived at.”
Cynthia Wilbanks, vice president for government relations at the University, also said she was pleased with Coleman’s decision to pick Hanlon for the position.
In an interview yesterday, Wilbanks said she was very happy with both the process of selecting the next provost and Hanlon’s selection.
“I’m thrilled about it,” she said. “I was very pleased that President Coleman consulted broadly about her choice.”
“I have worked with Phil for a long time and not only respect his acumen when it comes to budgetary affairs of the University, but his personal approach and style which is both respectful and engaging,” she continued.
Wilbanks said she believes Hanlon is uniquely qualified for the position because of his current position and extensive experience handling many similar responsibilities.
“He has a depth of knowledge about the University’s overall budget and the challenges that are associated with managing a university budget of our scope and scale that very few other people really have,” Wilbanks said. “He has spent a lot of time in his current position, and it’s part of his responsibilities to be well informed, but I think he has embraced the challenges both related to constructing the budget and then understanding where the sensitivities and challenges are.”
But Wilbanks indicated she wasn’t overly surprised by yesterday’s announcement that Hanlon would succeed Sullivan.
“I know that Michigan has chosen most of its provosts from within,” she said. “Certainly in the 40 years I’ve been in and around (the University), the provost has been just right for the time, and they’ve almost always come from our own ranks, which is a wonderful opportunity and an affirmation of the strength of the people who work here.”