Provost Search Committee narrows candidate pool

By Michael Macagnone

Some candidates for Pitt’s provost position face elimination while others will face… Some candidates for Pitt’s provost position face elimination while others will face higher levels of scrutiny.

The Provost Search Committee, a group of students, professors and administrators, has more than 150 candidates to replace Provost James Maher, who announced in November that he will step down this fall to return to teaching. The committee will spend the next few weeks narrowing the list down to 15 to 20 names.

The people on this “short list” will face interviews, background checks and extensive debate before the committee narrows down its applicant pool another time, said Randy Juhl, the committee chair. The committee will choose four to six people to recommend to Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, who has the final decision. It hopes to have a new provost working by the beginning of the fall semester, if not sooner.

Getting to this point

To begin its search, the committee made a call for applicants.

Many of the more than 150 candidates were nominated by members of the Provost Search Committee, said Dan Jimenez, who serves on the committee because he is the president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly.

Pitt also hired the higher education consulting firm R. William Funk and Associates, which is based in Dallas to help with the search.

The firm provided some candidates’ names to the committee and “targeted” other universities’ administrators whom it thinks might be a good fit, R. William Funk, the firm’s president, said.

The firm focuses on providing information to the committee, suggesting names of candidates and doing the background searches of the candidates, rather than influencing the decisions, Funk said.

The firm approached many of the candidates confidentially and asked if they would be interested in applying for the position at Pitt.

Confidentiality is important for the candidates as the search goes on, Juhl said. All of the candidates have jobs at Pitt and other universities, and they don’t want to “muddy the waters” by making their co-workers think they’re anxious to leave, he said.

As the process continues, R. William Funk and Associates will continue to help the University by doing further background checks on the candidates.

Making the cut

The Provost Search Committee is now faced with the task of narrowing down its applicant pool.

Juhl, the committee chair, said the group will first eliminate the people who didn’t submit applications or letters of interest. People could either apply for the position or be nominated by the committee. The consulting firm put out advertisements in the Chronicle of Higher Education and other publications. The committee had received about 50 applications as of yesterday.

Each member of the committee will select his or her top 10 choices. They will then use their lists to create a master list of 15 to 20 candidates, a list which the committee hopes to have chosen by May.

R. William Funk and Associates will provide Pitt with a list of references and perform Google and LexisNexis searches on each candidate, Funk said.

Each candidate will then come to Pittsburgh for a 90-minute interview.

The committee will narrow the list down to four to six candidates, who will sign a release that allows Pitt to do a background check on them, Funk said. The background check would include information about their credit histories, litigation histories and a check to see if they have criminal records.

At this point, it becomes the Chancellor’s search, Funk said. The candidates will come to campus, where they will be interviewed by Chancellor Nordenberg, deans from some of the University’s schools and student representatives.

Nordenberg could make his decision as early as June. But Funk said these processes are “kind of fluid,” and a new provost might not be in place until the beginning of the fall semester, when Maher intends to retire.

The qualities of a provost

Current Provost Maher earned praise for helping Pitt expand its reputation as a research institution, Jimenez, a committee member and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly president, said.

Jimenez, who is studying neuroscience, said he hopes the new provost will “understand Pitt’s research strength” and continue that tradition.

Funk said a candidate’s ability to pioneer new research was a “key factor” in the talks he had with the Provost Search Committee and with Nordenberg.

Still, he said, the committee is focused on building a diverse candidate pool, considering applicants’ academic background, ethnicity and gender.

Juhl, the head of the committee, said that while the candidates’ strengths in fundraising or fostering graduate level research are important, other factors take priority.

The next provost needs skills “more basic than fundraising,” he said.

Although the expectations and requirements are higher, they are not so different from most other jobs. The new provost will need unquestioned integrity, a history of achievement at a similar job and an ability to think on his or her feet, he said.

Most importantly, Juhl said, the new provost needs “a vision for the future of the University and the ability to communicate it.”

He noted that the new provost will have to be able to manage people from competing departments and programs.

The faces behind the decision

The 20-member Provost Search Committee has four deans or associate deans from various schools at Pitt’s main campus, as well as representatives from other campuses and administrators.

Nine faculty members from Pitt’s main campus and one Johnstown professor serve on the committee, representing various schools and disciplines.

Administrators include Staff Association of Council President Gwendolyn Watkins, Assistant Chancellor Jean Ferketish and Bradford Campus President Livingston Alexander.

Student Government Board President Charlie Shull, Graduate and Professional Student Association President Daniel Jimenez and College of General Sciences Student Government President Rosemary Natale represent students on the committee.