Internal search for new SIUC provost leads to internal conflict

By Brandi Courtois, News Editor

The search for a permanent provost began in October and is being conducted internally, at the same time as the on-going searches for a permanent president and chancellor, a decision that has caused controversy among members of the Faculty Association and campus at large. 

An internal search for a position only considers candidates from within the university. A committee made up from various constituency groups will be used to choose finalists from the search.

The provost reports directly to the chancellor and serves as a member of the chancellor’s cabinet, according to the job posting. They may also represent SIU Carbondale when the chancellor is not available for the university and community events.

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The provost is in charge of all things relating to academic affairs on campus. This includes working closely with administrators and deans. 

Those who disagree with the internal search say it is rushed, should not be completed internally and it gives the incumbent provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, Meera Komarraju, an unfair advantage. 

Komarraju was named as provost by former Chancellor Carlo Montemagno in March 2018.

See more: (COLA dean nominated for Interim Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs

Interim chancellor and other members of the upper administration say the search is not ‘unusual’ and will continue to move forward in an effort to add stability to the university.

In a letter from the Faculty Association, the union of tenure and tenure-track professors, published on Oct. 1, David Johnson, the president of the association, said it is highly unusual to hire a permanent provost via an internal search. 

“A decision to install an internal candidate as permanent provost in the midst of a chancellor search will send the signal that SIUC does not want the incumbent provost replaced,” the letter said. “It sends the signal that the campus is not interested in giving a new chancellor the authority to form his or her own leadership team.”

Johnson said he thinks there’s a widespread belief on campus that the structure of the search has been designed so that Komarraju will end up with a permanent position. 

According to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Daily Egyptian, in an Oct. 14 email, Interim President J. Kevin Dorsey said he disagreed with the premises and conclusions made in one of Johnson’s letters. 

“I do not see an internal search as ‘highly unorthodox,’” Dorsey said in the email. “Nor do I believe that it necessarily signals that ‘SIUC does not want the incumbent provost replaced.’”

Interim Chancellor John Dunn said there’s nothing particularly difficult, unusual or unique about the way the provost search is being carried out. He said with the current searches for deans, the incoming deans will want to know who they report to. He said they need to stabilize somewhere.

SIU is currently searching for a permanent system president and SIU Carbondale is searching for a permanent chancellor, provost and several deans. SIU currently has over 40 interim positions.

See more: (With over 40 interim positions in administration, SIUC still can’t hire from outside the university to fill them)

Phil Gilbert, chair of the board of trustees, has said SIU is moving away from being known as an “interim university.”

See more: (Students express discontent over provost search at Campus Conversation with Board of Trustee chair)

“One of the goals I think of this board is to add some stability,” Gilbert said in the article. “Interim Chancellor [John] Dunn is going to be in the process of taking the interim tag off several people, but that doesn’t mean they’re permanent. Everybody on this university, in administration, serves at the pleasure of the president and the board. ”

Johnson said the fundamental problem with removing interim from somebody’s name in any post means the person who gets the job on a long term basis hasn’t been properly vetted.

“The best way to get a strong leader that has a lot of support is to do the search the right way,” Johnson said.

Johnson said a problematic feature of the search is that the university is doing an internal search where it has an incumbent in the position already. 

“So, it’s not really a level playing field, right?” Johnson said. 

Someone who has already been doing the job is going to have the experience and know-how that other candidates don’t have, Johnson said. He compared it to a track and field event where someone gets to start a lap ahead. 

“We’re going to end up with someone in the second highest position on campus who really hasn’t been properly vetted by faculty, students and other people who would normally participate on search committees and evaluate and give their input on a range of candidates,” Johnson said. 

This could lead to problems between people in those two positions who may have a different view on where the university should be going, Johnson said.

Dorsey said in the email to Dunn and Gilbert, the search to him only signals that the university wants stability with the best possible candidate in the position, and this will be determined by an open process. 

In another email sent on Oct. 13, Dunn said it seems prudent to think that a newly appointed chancellor will benefit from a provost that understands the university history, strengths, organizational structure, faculty members, current leadership and constituency groups. 

“An experienced provost can help fill in the blanks,” Dunn said in the email.

Dunn said, in the email, several universities have conducted national searches for their provosts. He said it’s also true that many universities have done so via an internal search. 

“It’s not uncommon when you’re looking for a provost to seek within the university, many places do that,” Dunn said. “I think given where we are in our history at this time, that’s a wise decision.”

Dunn said it’s highly likely the final candidates from the presidential and chancellor searches will come from external sources. He said the university needs to have an inside individual who knows the university and thinks it will be warmly received by the new chancellor.

There’s a lot of talk on campus about the need for stability, Johnson said. He said the ultimate goal is to have good leadership.

“The best way to get good leaders is to do good searches,” Johnson said. “An internal search is not as good as a national search because you’re just not going to get the same range of candidates.”

Dunn said in the email the need for now is stability and an individual who has experience as an administrator and good knowledge of the university.

“We need to move and not delay,” Dunn said in the email.

In addition to the Faculty Association, students and student trustee Brione Lockett said they were concerned over the handling of the provost search.

On Oct. 16 at a Campus Conversation meeting, Lockett said he was concerned about the current search for a new provost. He said he didn’t feel that the campus thinks the search is fair.

See more: (Students express discontent over provost search at Campus Conversation with Board of Trustee chair)

“‘The fix is in’ is the phrase I’ve heard recently, that our current interim provost will be the permanent provost,” Lockett said at the meeting.

Jeremy Allen, a graduate doctoral student studying sociology, said at the meeting it is counterintuitive to maintain the old provost in the name of stability.

“If we don’t like the direction the university is going, then why do we want to continue with the leadership that are taking us in that direction?” Allen said.

Allen said as a student, it is his understanding that internal searches favor the incumbent. 

“People have different opinions, views and thoughts about all these things,” Dunn said. “We respect that, but we are doing a search.” 

News Editor Brandi Courtois can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @Brandi_Courtois.

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