A new face will soon be occupying one of the University’s most important positions. As announced in an e-mail yesterday from University President Mary Sue Coleman, University Provost Teresa Sullivan will soon be leaving to become the president at the University of Virginia. On the heels of her departure, the University has an opportunity to bring a new addition to the University’s management team. Sullivan’s successor should reflect a commitment to diversity and possess financial prowess. At the same time, this opening should be used to right a past shortcoming: the University’s failure to meaningfully engage students in its policy-making decisions.
Coleman announced yesterday that Sullivan will begin serving as the president of UVA on Aug. 1. Coleman intends to select a new provost before that time. UVA chose Sullivan partly because of her success in managing the University’s budget amid financial turbulence — and with UVA facing cuts in its own state funding, Sullivan’s budgetary acumen could be beneficial.
Sullivan’s savvy in managing the University’s budget was one of her strong points. Among other actions, Sullivan played a key role in the Space Utilization Initiative. Last November, project manager Frances Mueller estimated that the initiative saved the University $185 million in construction costs by managing space efficiently and reducing the need for new construction projects.
Like Sullivan, the new provost should possess experience in managing a large and complex budget. More than that, the University’s new hire should possess a stronger commitment to maintaining affordability for students. As many students face serious financial burdens from tuition costs, avoiding tuition hikes like last year’s 5.6 percent increase should be a top priority. The University’s new hire should do everything possible to curtail costs, including halting the University’s custom to routinely give pay raises and hire expensive new faculty at students’ expense.
In making its pick for the position, the University should also demonstrate a commitment to diversity. While administrators have expressed a desire to maintain diversity among faculty members and the student body, the representation of diverse groups in its leadership ranks doesn’t reflect the University’s supposed commitment. The University should aim to improve representation of minority groups at all levels — and that means choosing a provost who will increase the administration’s diversity.
And the new provost should put the school’s diverse student body to good use. Sullivan’s successor should show a commitment to involving students in decisions that affect them. In the past, Sullivan purported to include students in decision-making by creating student committees like the Student Budget Advisory Committee, which was started in 2008. But these closed-door committees seemed more like an effort to pacify students than to actually gain their insight on policies that affect them. The provost Coleman chooses should be willing to take earnest action to hear students’ ideas, and put them into practice.
Sullivan’s replacement should possess a balanced set of qualifications that reflects the University’s needs. And what the University — and the student body — needs is a provost who increases the diversity of University administration and possesses financial and managerial experience to improve conditions for students.