A dozen members of the Provost Search Committee fielded questions from faculty and students today as they begin the process of replacing outgoing Provost Eric Kaler, who accepted a job as President of the University of Minnesota in November.
The town hall meeting was the second such event in as many weeks, and was organized to give the Stony Brook University community an opportunity to air grievances and offer suggestions on how best to fill the post.
Like last week, Wednesday’s meeting in the Wang Center Theatre was lightly attended, with no more than 30 people—mostly faculty—in the audience.
But the conversation was not short on opinions. Faculty from the research and science side of campus lobbied for candidates with a background in research, while representatives from the arts and humanities beseeched the committee to find someone who wouldn’t ignore their departments.
“I’m a bit disappointed at the lack of representation of the Arts and Humanities on the committee,” said one faculty member in attendance. Of the 21-person committee, only two faculty members hail from humanities departments, two more than from art departments.
Committee co-chair Nancy Tomes, a History professor, warned at the first town hall last week that conducting a search with preconceived expectations about a candidate’s academic background could be detrimental.
“It’s not such a good idea to approach the search with a hard and fast rule,” she said. A candidate with a well-balanced academic background would be ideal, added Tomes.
Perhaps the person with the best credentials and most support is the person who currently holds the job. Praise for Eric Kaler was abundant at both meetings, and if there was a consensus to be had about the next Provost it was that he or she should be as similar to Kaler as possible.
“We’ve been spoiled,” said Michael Zweig, an economics professor and director of the Center for Study of Working Class Life. “We would hope any candidate would be like Eric Kaler.”
The provost is the chief executive officer for all of Stony Brook’s academic programs. Kaler, who has served as provost since 2007, has faced mounting challenges as budget cuts from Albany continue to deplete departmental budgets. Cuts or the consolidation of academic programs has been floated as a very real, perhaps even likely, possibility, and on Wednesday the committee suggested that those cuts would come from Kaler before he vacates his office on June 30.
“We are anticipating a cut that we cannot handle,” said Lee Miller, a professor in the Philosophy department. “A new provost may well have to cut departments.”
Professor Miller also made a point to stick up for undergraduate students, a population he says is vital to the university yet consistently overlooked by the office of the provost.
“It’s hard to imagine an undergraduate ever crosses a provost’s mind,” he said. “Undergraduates have always been cannon fodder one way or another.”
The committee is still in the nomination stage, according to co-chair Dr. David Ferguson. They are accepting nominees from across the country but said they would gladly look at any applicants from within Stony Brook University as well. No timetable for selecting finalists has been given yet, but Ferguson said the committee hopes to have the new provost in place by the fall semester.
If nobody has been selected by the time Kaler leaves office at the end of June, the task falls to university President Samuel Stanley to temporarily fill the post.
“The president has not announced what will happen in the event we do not have a provost by July 1,” said Ferguson.