University Provost Paul Courant announced yesterday that he will step down from his position on Aug. 31 instead of seeking reappointment for a second term.
Courant, who has held the University’s second most powerful position since 2001, said he was successful in his two chief objectives as provost — easing the transition of University President Mary Sue Coleman and guiding the University through an ongoing tough budgetary situation.
“I was able to help the president adjust and learn about Michigan and for Michigan to learn about her,” Courant said of Coleman, who assumed her post in 2001.
In an e-mail yesterday to faculty, Coleman wrote that she relied on Courant to aid her during her acclimation to the University. She said his knowledge of the University budget in a time of declining state funding was essential to the University’s ability to maintain its world-class academics.
“Under his leadership, our academic units have continued to innovate and grow, despite resource constraints,” she said.
Courant named his management of budget cuts while sustaining the University’s academic excellence as the accomplishment he is most proud of.
“I hope I’m remembered as someone who kept his eyes on what mattered more — academic quality of institution,” he said.
But with Gov. Jennifer Granholm proposing to strip the University’s state funding again of $5.6 million, the University is still in a budget crisis. Courant cited those cuts as the greatest challenge his successor will face.
“American higher education is one of the spectacular successes of the modern world, but we’re having trouble sustaining support,” Courant said. “It’s the problem the president is working very hard on right now. Otherwise, I think I’m leaving the place in pretty good shape.”
Courant will end his role as provost on Aug. 31 and until then will continue working on the University’s fiscal year 2006 budget.
“I’m still on the clock,” he said. “I wouldn’t leave in the middle — Aug. 31 is a very dead time around here. So we’ll get through this budget cycle and make sure we’ll be in solid shape for next year.”
Gary Krenz, Coleman’s special counsel, said Courant picked an appropriate time to leave.
“Because his term lasts through the end of August, he will see us through the budget cycle,” Krenz said.
Courant said he plans to take a year of leave before continuing at the University as a professor. He plans to spend that time taking courses, reading, writing and being with his son, who is in high school.
“I’ll be around; I just won’t be wearing a tie as much,” Courant said.
After his year off, Courant said he wants to go back to his previous role as a professor in the economics department and the Ford School of Public Policy, researching interests he developed while serving as provost — such as library economics and scholarly communications — as well as the management and budgetary concerns of complex organizations such as universities. He said he will welcome the chance to spend time thinking, researching and interacting with students, but will miss the pace and breadth that go along with the provost’s job.
“It’s very demanding and continually fascinating,” Courant said. “Like any good job, the job was both terrifically satisfying and terribly frustrating.”
Edie Goldenberg, former LSA dean, said she is not surprised that Courant is leaving — anyone who holds the office of provost, she said, is prone to burning out.
The search for a replacement will begin almost immediately. Coleman said she will announce the appointment of a faculty member to chair a search committee for a new provost in a few days. More information about the search process and opportunities to nominate candidates will be posted on Coleman’s website and in the University Record.
Krenz said it will be a challenge to find a replacement who matches Courant’s ability but that it can be done.
“Frankly, we have a history of very good provosts here,” he said.
Aside from his work on the budget and easing Coleman into her role, Courant led the development of M-PACT — the University’s new financial aid grant program for in-state residents — and coordinated the partnership between the University Library and Google to digitize seven million volumes in the library’s collection.
“Paul’s dedication to this university is unmatched, and we owe him our deepest appreciation,” Coleman said.