Fate of provost candidates now rests in Kaler’s hands

The four propects spent the last two weeks on campus making their case.

Robert Stine, Michael Schmitt, Mel Baughman, Ann Hill Duin, Abel Ponce de Leon, Allen Levine, Lori Engstrom

Courtesy of the University of Minnesota

Robert Stine, Michael Schmitt, Mel Baughman, Ann Hill Duin, Abel Ponce de Leon, Allen Levine, Lori Engstrom

Greta Kaul

The search for the University of MinnesotaâÄôs second-in-command is down to four.

Finalists to become the next senior vice president for academic affairs and provost made their pitches to the University community over the past week.

Anything that has to do with academics âÄî from curriculum changes to hiring deans âÄî falls under the provostâÄôs jurisdiction, said Tom Sullivan, the outgoing senior vice president and provost.

Sullivan announced in February his plans to step down at the end of the fall semester.

Every year, deans from the UniversityâÄôs 20 different schools and heads of about 10 departments report to the provost, who makes the top-level decisions that connect them.

The University received about 50 applications. From there, it chose 16 to visit campus for interviews in August. Sixteen became five, and each finalist was scheduled to visit for forums this week and last. It was announced Sunday that one candidate dropped out before being publicly named.

The search committee will compile information from the four candidate forums and present it to President Eric Kaler, who is expected to make a decision within a month, said Tim Mulcahy, the UniversityâÄôs vice president for research and head of the provost search committee.

The new provost will take office at the beginning of 2012.

Half of the candidates come from inside the University. Including Sullivan, the last five senior vice presidents for academic affairs were selected from within the University.

âÄúItâÄôs anybodyâÄôs game,âÄù Mulcahy insisted. âÄúThere are those who would argue being on the same campus is a natural advantage.âÄù

But internal candidates also have a history with the people at the school, which could in turn be a disadvantage, he added.

HereâÄôs a rundown of each of the four candidates and their forums.


Robert Elde

Dean, College of Biological Sciences 

University of Minnesota

Robert Elde said heâÄôs not typically a âÄúdoomsdayâÄù person, but he opened his forum by saying that higher education is facing âÄútroubling and trying times.âÄù

Elde is a neuroscience professor and the dean of the College of Biological Sciences, a position he has held for more than 16 years. He has been at the University for 34 years.

He is primarily concerned with decreased public support and interest to fund the University.

âÄúItâÄôs part of the agenda thatâÄôs dividing the country as to what we value and what we will pay for as citizens of this country,âÄù Elde said.

George Wilcox, a neuroscience professor, has worked with Elde since Elde came to the University.

He said Elde has facilitated an inter-university collaboration with Karolinska University in Stockholm and that Elde is âÄúvery receptive to that kind of collaboration.âÄù

Elde said he wants the University to become a âÄúdestinationâÄù school by developing more programs like âÄúNature of Life,âÄù a three-day course required of all incoming CBS freshmen at Lake Itasca.

âÄúWeâÄôve got to be persuasive that weâÄôve got the stuff that you canâÄôt find anywhere else,âÄù he said.

Elde has worked under four different provosts at the University. That experience would help him synthesize the best practices to attain the goals of the president, he said.

He received his bachelorâÄôs degree in natural science from ChicagoâÄôs North Park College in 1969 and his doctorate in anatomy from the University in 1974.


Allen Levine

Dean, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences 

University of Minnesota

As the director of the Minnesota Obesity Center, Allen LevineâÄôs call for redefined budgets for centers and institutes at the University comes from experience.

âÄúWe canâÄôt just keep on sucking colleges dry so they have no funding,âÄù he said.

The University should define how much the central administration should cost and impose discipline, he said.

Levine has been the dean of the University of MinnesotaâÄôs College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences since 2006. He has worked at the University since 1981 and believes it is time to take a collaborative approach.

âÄúThe future is interdisciplinary,âÄù Levine said. âÄúWe have to find a way to do this.âÄù

Not only does Levine have a history of collaborating with other departments at the University, he has a habit of working with people over the course of decades.

Blake Gosnell was a postdoctoral candidate under Levine in 1982 and has since worked with him on a number of research projects.

Gosnell said LevineâÄôs ability to work well with people makes him a natural for the provost position.

âÄúI really donâÄôt know that heâÄôs made any enemies along the way,âÄù said Gosnell, whoâÄôs now a research professor at the University.

At his public forum Thursday, Levine stressed that engagement in the community is important to prove the value of the University as a common good.

Levine received his masterâÄôs degree in botany from the University in 1973 and his doctorate in nutrition in 1977. He completed his bachelorâÄôs degree in botany at Rutgers University in 1970.

In addition to his 30 years at the University, Levine worked at the Minneapolis Veterans Administration Medical Center from 1978 to 2004 as a research chemist.


Karen Hanson


Indiana University-Bloomington

Karen Hanson is currently executive vice president of Indiana University and provost of its Bloomington campus.

She emphasized the need to use the UniversityâÄôs urban setting to build partnerships between the school and its community. Businesses need a strong education system, she said, and they should be willing to invest in it.

As provost at Indiana University-Bloomington, Hanson meets regularly with student groups and makes use of student, faculty and staff taskforces, she said. Ideas from the taskforces âÄî like better student advising and digital textbooks âÄî provided a framework to improve the University.

While Hanson acknowledged the importance of math, science and engineering to a research institution like the University, she said the liberal arts feel âÄúunder attack.âÄù Educated in philosophy, she stressed the importance of humanities, which âÄúadd meaning to life,âÄù she said.

âÄúThatâÄôs a case that will have to be made again and again.âÄù

She completed a bachelorâÄôs degree in philosophy and mathematics at the University in 1970 and received adoctorate in philosophy from Harvard University in 1980.


Gary Wihl

Dean of Faculty of Arts and Science Washington University in St. Louis

Gary Wihl considers himself a product of public education, despite having spent the last 10 years employed at private universities.

He attended college on a combination of scholarships, work-study funds and loans. He made it clear that he considers financial aid a priority.

As the dean of the faculty of arts and sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, Wihl said he donates 30 percent of his salary to aid undergraduates.

In order to retain undergraduates at a university of this scale âÄî which had roughly four times as many undergraduates as his current school, according to fall 2010 enrollment statistics âÄî Wihl wants to increase the student to-faculty-ratio through freshman seminars and independent study.

Wihl said the challenge is to make sure students arenâÄôt lost in the size of the school and class options.

âÄúI think it trumps, in my view, just about every other issue that attaches to undergraduate education,âÄù Wihl said.

He said he also hopes to âÄúbreak away from the packâÄù with an interdisciplinary approach to graduate programs.

âÄúHe really focused on a certain number of high-profile matters, and that paid off,âÄù said professor Joe Manca, who worked closely with Wihl during his six years as dean at Rice University.

 âÄúI think one perspective that I bring to a job like this is the fact that I can translate well between different sectors of the University,âÄù Wihl said, stressing his interdisciplinary work between areas like business and medicine.

Wihl earned his doctorate in English from Yale University in 1983. He earned both his bachelorâÄôs and masterâÄôs degrees in English from McGill University in Quebec in 1976 and 1978, respectively.


Balancing challenge and opportunity

Sullivan, too, suspects collaboration will play a big role at the University in the years ahead. But interdisciplinary work is often hard for individual deans to achieve. Coordinating work between colleges and departments will be a big part of the next provostâÄôs job, he said.

The next provost will oversee the University-wide accreditation slated for 2015 âÄî a major evaluation of programs, Sullivan said. Keeping sight of academic priorities amid a constrained budget and the possibility of more state cuts will factor heavily into the next provostâÄôs term.

Sullivan looks forward to a year-long sabbatical, after which he will return to teaching at the Law School.

A provost needs to manage opportunities and challenges to propel the University forward, Sullivan reflected.

âÄúItâÄôs a great position,âÄù he said.