Search for new UO provost makes headway

“Choosing a provost is among the most important decisions a president will make for a university,” University of Oregon President Michael Schill wrote in an open letter after the current provost, Scott Coltrane, announced retirement in June. The Provost Search Committee is tasked with helping Schill in that decision.

The committee, chaired by UO Professor Geri Richmond, took a step forward on Monday by holding a public input session, during which the group discussed diversity, budget expertise and problem-solving skills as desirable traits in a candidate. About 20 people, mostly members of the 18-person committee, were in attendance.

The UO provost is second-in-command to the president. The position oversees all things academic, including research, budgets, curriculum, faculty tenure promotions and admissions, according to the provost website.

“People recognize how important this position is,” Richmond said, pleased with the public input.

Richmond will release the updated formal job description within the next week, she said. The committee, along with an external search firm, Russell Reynolds Associates, currently seeks recommendations for provost candidates.

Members in the forum stressed diversity as an important factor in choosing the next provost. More than half of the forum attendees were women, and nearly all committee members received bias-awareness training.

One of the Provost Search Committee members, math professor Chris Sinclair, said it’s hard for women and minorities to break into the “old boys network.”

Sinclair explained the network as a feedback loop, in which letters of recommendation — vital to any application for a position such as a provost — are written by white males and favor white males. The letters use subtleties in vocabulary, like differentiating a male as a “go-getter,” opposed to a female as one who “plays well with others,” Sinclair said; the former is more favorable than the latter.

“It’s a self-reinforcing system,” Sinclair said. He hopes to shift away from this with the next choice for UO’s next provost.

Another discussed trait for a provost included experience with budgets, reflecting the cuts and tuition increases that could loom in UO’s future.

There may be cutting of departments,” Richmond said. “We need a provost who can make those decisions.”

Other traits brought up in the forum included the ability to improve tenured promotion, integrate engineering and medicine into UO curriculum, negotiate with unions and connect with the larger Eugene community.

The university hired Russell Reynolds Associates to assist with the search and hiring of the next provost. Richmond said she has previously worked with Russell Reynolds and was impressed with them. One of their consultants skyped into the forum from Washington D.C. to receive public input.

The committee meets next in November, after which all further provost search matters will be kept confidential to conceal candidates.

Often we have to do interviews behind closed doors because candidates may be fired if their employers know they are interviewing with others,” Richmond said.

According to an announcement from Schill, Coltrane departs on July 1, 2017, when the new provost will step in.

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Will Campbell

Will Campbell

I'm the Senior News Editor at the Emerald. I was born and raised in Vancouver, WA.