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Leaders describe ideal new provost

Eileen Duffy | Friday, April 22, 2005

The search committee for the new provost, headed by University President-elect Father John Jenkins, has been meeting with various constituencies to find out what qualities they are looking for in Notre Dame’s next academic leader.

“Rather than prejudice the issue, we want to find out what others think,” philosophy professor and committee member Cornelius Delaney said.

Senior faculty members have a great deal to say about their hopes for the new provost – regarding both his character and his vision for the University.


When faculty members reflected on the qualities a provost ought to possess, they came up with a variety of responses.

Keith Bradley, chair of the classics department, pointed immediately to academics when he described his ideal provost.

“He or she must be an accomplished scholar who can set a standard for the rest of the faculty, someone with intellectual vision for the teaching and research enterprise that is the University,” Bradley said, adding that the provost ought to be truly “inspirational.”

Others were more concerned with the provost’s public presence. Dennis Doordan, chair of art, art history and design, said he hopes to see a new academic speaker who is “articulate.” Professor of electrical engineering Ken Sauer agreed.

“I think it’s very important that both our president and our provost be people … who have a good public presence, who are very well-spoken and who will be able to put the best face of the institution to the rest of the world,” Sauer said.

During the search committee’s meeting with the College of Arts and Letters’ college council, Doordan said a need was also expressed for someone who was sensitive to the needs of female and minority faculty members. Bradley also cited the importance of the provost’s relationship with the faculty, saying it was important for the provost to gain their trust and confidence.

Physics professor John LoSecco also highlighted the importance of the provost’s ability to form relationships.

“He/she must work well with the new president,” he said. “It’s essential that they are on the same page and have the same goals in mind, that there is a unified administration.”

Allocating resources

Many professors expressed an interest in having more resources allocated toward their areas of interest. LoSecco emphasized the College of Science’s interest in keeping the “momentum” going that Jordan Hall has started. Doordan expressed similar sentiments.

“From my point of view, with the new [DeBartolo Performing Arts Center], Notre Dame’s crossed a threshold, made a real commitment to the arts,” Doordan said. “I don’t want to see that momentum lost. I want to see the next provost committed to the visual and performing arts.”

Bradley focused on the importance of liberal arts as a whole.

“One of the important things about Notre Dame is the high value it puts on liberal arts,” he said. “I hope the new provost will maintain, at least, if not extend Notre Dame’s educational commitment to liberal education and especially the humanities disciplines.”

Sauer said the College of Engineering simply wants someone who recognizes the importance of engineering – not just in society, but also in the University itself, because of the college’s small size. Chemistry professor Richard Taylor said he would like to see someone with “an appreciation for experimental sciences.”

Balancing goals

Ultimately, though, it is the ability to balance these competing needs that sets a good provost apart.

Both Lewis and Richard Taylor, a chemistry professor, stressed the need to balance undergraduate education with graduate-level research.

“I think that both things are very important for a strong university,” Lewis said. “But the way that both will really benefit is if there’s a meaningful connection between the two.”

Associate Dean of the Mendoza College of Business Bill Nichols expressed a desire for a provost who would keep with Notre Dame’s traditional Catholic identity.

Taylor, though, emphasized the future along with the tradition.

“Some may say Notre Dame tends to look too much toward tradition and not enough toward evolution of the University,” he said. “I want someone who is interested in projecting a strong vision for the future of the University, who looks equally toward the future as to the past.”

That ability to look in many directions was also recognized by mathematics department chair Bill Dwyer.

“It’s a matter of judgment,” he said. “It’s not obvious where resources should go. We need someone at the top who looks at the whole picture and makes judicious decisions and sometimes, bold and visionary decisions.”