Editorial: Provost search lacks transparency, student input

Casey Orledge/THE REVIEW
The university appears to be avoiding student input to the best of its ability in the search for the new provost, the academic leader of the university.

While the search for the university’s next provost continues, many students remain in the dark about this supposedly “transparent” process. Decisions made by the provost and their office have a tremendous impact not only on the university’s present situation, but also its future. The weight and importance of this position should be reflected in the steps taken during the search, and the less-than-inclusive approach the search committee has been utilizing should raise some red flags.

As the university’s chief academic officer, the provost is responsible for the administration of all programs of instruction, research and service, meaning each dean of the seven colleges must report to them. With these responsibilities resting on their shoulders, the provost has a clear, direct path of influence over the success of university faculty and students alike. This is no small burden to bear.

In an effort to attain feedback from the university community, the Provost Search Committee recently held a town hall meeting, open to all students, staff and faculty. While this may appear to be an effort on the administration’s behalf to involve students in the discussion, the surface-level attempt was poorly executed, leaving many students with an all too familiar taste of disdain in their mouth. The meeting, which was meant to act as a forum for student feedback, was held the Friday afternoon before Thanksgiving break, making it less accessible to the student population as they departed campus. Furthermore, the meeting was poorly advertised, with received mention at the very end of President Dennis Assanis’ email to the university on Nov. 10.

Unsurprisingly, the meeting had dismal turnout, with most of the attendees being committee members themselves.

There are precedents at other universities of community nomination for provost selection committees, and because the university has opted to appoint its own committee, we must make more active efforts to press our demands through these committee members.

As far as undergraduate representation is concerned, the only representative from the student body is Natalie Criscenzo, president of the university’s Student Government Association (SGA). Criscenzo is expected to single-handedly represent the interests of nearly 18,000 undergraduate students. This is an overwhelmingly disproportionate scale, as undergraduates outsize all other demographics at the university.

And as this student body carries diverse backgrounds and ideas, we should find a provost that seeks to fulfill our expectations for diversity and inclusion for our university.

While women have filled the interim positions in the recent searches for president and provost, including Interim President Nancy Targett and now-Interim Provost Robin Morgan, women have not typically been selected. If glass ceilings are to be broken at this university, then the many qualified women in higher education should receive equal consideration for the job.

Our provost should be someone whose background is compatible with the university’s needs.

If students want a provost who is committed to representing and embracing all disciplines, we must question if there is proof in their background to account for interest in the variability of disciplines, and if they will be capable of bridging the divides between different departments.

If students seek a balance of powers between the school executives, we need a provost who would be willing to communicate and disagree with the president if necessary, and this provost should feel comfortable doing so.

With the university’s plans of hiring 250 faculty members over the next five years, and with the major construction of the Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus underway, students must seek a provost with financial competency, and one who knows how to press the brakes if needed.

It is critical for students to be made aware of why this process affects them and the extent to which their demands will be met. The university’s efforts to advertise and acknowledge the process and accept student feedback is instrumental in a fair, transparent search.

The university should seek a leader whose values are aligned with ours and who will best fit where we see our university in the future. For this to be possible, students must demand more inclusive and approachable platforms to share our voices.

Editorials are developed by The Review’s Editorial Board, led this week by Editorial Editor Marissa Onesi. She can be reached at monesi@udel.edu.

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