University holds town halls in search for Grasso’s successor

Town hall
Randi Homola/THE REVIEW
The university held two town hall events before break, open to the university community to voice questions and concerns about the ongoing provost search.

BY , MANAGING NEWS EDITOR
AND , SENIOR REPORTER

As campus emptied for break on Friday, Nov. 17, the university held a “town hall” in the afternoon, seeking community feedback for the ongoing provost search — that is, from the diligent few who reached the end of President Dennis Assanis’ email on Nov. 10, which announced the meeting.

A similar, faculty-only event was held on Nov. 16, whereas the Nov. 17 town hall was open to faculty, students and staff.

Members of the Provost Search Committee, who Assanis announced in the same email, were in attendance. The committee includes two student representatives, with Natalie Criscenzo, president of the university’s Student Government Association (SGA), representing the undergraduate population, and David Maisson, president of the Graduate Student Government (GSG), also participating in the search. Other committee members included faculty and administrators from various departments.

The earlier Nov. 16, faculty-only town hall commanded a rather small audience of about 20 people. The audience consisted of members of the search committee and a handful of members of the university faculty.

The town hall sought feedback on “competencies” demanded of a prospective provost, as well as insight into the various challenges and opportunities facing the university. Attendees cited the need for diversity and openness in the candidate search, noting a trend of men occupying top administrative positions.

Although women have undertaken interim positions for the most recent president and provost vacancies, women have not ultimately been hired.

Attendees also requested candidate willingness to understand the university’s role, location and identity, rather than making assumptions and implementing incompatible models of achievement. The need for financial competence and acknowledging the university’s limitations were also discussed, as the university proceeds with plans to hire 250 new faculty members over five years.

On Nov. 16, faculty referenced the university’s recent Princeton Review ranking as the nation’s No. 6 party school, demanding that the next provost re-establish the school’s academic reputation. Faculty also stressed the need for dual governance between faculty and administration in university affairs, as well as equal commitment to different disciplines.

Faculty Senate President and Professor Martha Buell, who is a member of the search committee, said that bridging divides between the university’s seven colleges, whose current structure leads to unintended consequences and confusion, should be a priority for the provost. Deni Galileo, former faculty senate president, expressed the same concern, noting that the current system leads faculty to “think of their college as their own little kingdom.”

The university’s traditional role as an undergraduate-focused institution was mentioned, and Criscenzo cited several major factors for undergraduates, including study abroad programs, campus comfort, proximity to major cities and a sincere care for students.

In a separate interview with The Review, Criscenzo said that her priorities for the committee include a focus on student life and success, citing several concerns presented to her.

“I think it’s easy to talk about bringing in great faculty, or research opportunities, or the grad college or things happening on STAR Campus,” Criscenzo said. “At the end of the day, student success, that’s what matters.”

Criscenzo said that she hopes to see greater undergraduate involvement in the process, and she encouraged students to voice their opinions and help represent undergraduates.

Maisson called for effective communication skills in a prospective provost — a criterion echoed by other attendees — hoping that a new provost will work to shape student outlets for communication and self-advocacy regarding research, career opportunities and other interests.

Maisson also stressed a need for increased community engagement between the university and the community, referencing an increasing distrust in “academic elitism” and the role that a provost can play in addressing this problem.

“Part of the problem is us, as higher ed institutions, that we are not doing enough to reach out and break down the walls of the ivory towers,” Maisson said. “We’re not doing enough to have a bidirectional conversation between us and society about why academic work is important and impacts their daily lives.”

Estella Atekwana, who serves as the dean of the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment (CEOE) and is co-chairing the Provost Search Committee, said that similar town halls will be held in the future, although specific dates have not yet been released.

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