After more than a year and a half without a permanent provost and chief academic officer, Loyola officials said they expect to select one by the end of the calendar year. Meanwhile, some critics said the search isn’t fast enough.
The provost’s job is to manage the university’s academic operations, which includes overseeing the university’s 11 colleges and schools, and working with university deans and student services to make sure Loyola lives up to its promise of providing quality education, Dr. Margaret Callahan, interim provost since January 2018, said.
Dr. Vicki Keough, chair of the provost search committee and a professor in Loyola’s Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing, said the committee is still on track to find a new provost this by the end of 2019.
The committee is made up of 21 people, which includes faculty, staff, administrators and students, according to Keough. She said the committee is based out of the Office of the President, and will submit final recommendations to Loyola President Dr. Jo Ann Rooney, who will make the final selection.
Keough said the search for a provost under the “one provost model” — the model in which the entire university will be under the leadership of a single provost, rather than multiple — began in spring 2019, after President Rooney announced the transition to the new model. Keough said before this announcement, the search committee was looking for a provost for only the Lake Shore and Water Tower Campuses, and had expected to have a provost by fall 2018.
However, because the university changed what type of position it was looking to fill, Keough said the search committee had to start over in spring 2019 to start looking for candidates to fit a different position and profile.
In a recent letter to Loyola’s Board of Trustees, Loyola’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) criticized the university for taking too long to find a provost, claiming the university lacks academic leadership by having only an interim provost, The Phoenix reported.
Dr. Benjamin Johnson, president of Loyola’s AAUP chapter and a professor in Loyola’s history department, said although he isn’t one of the members who signed the letter to the Board of Trustees this past summer, he shares similar concerns about the university having an interim provost for longer than a year.
“A lot of it is the concern about [how] there’s only so much an interim person can do,” Johnson said. “You want a permanent person in there, who has … the ability to make long-term plans that they’re going to be here to see followed through on.”
Callahan has been the university’s interim provost and chief academic officer since John Pelissero, the previous provost, stepped down, The Phoenix reported. Callahan previously served as provost of Loyola’s Health Sciences Campus from fall 2015 through spring 2019, and has been Loyola’s senior vice president for strategy and innovation since June 2019, which is responsible for overseeing and evaluating strategic planning across the entire university.
Callahan said she thinks the most important part of the search for a new provost is for the committee to find the best person for the job, not how long the search takes.
“If it takes 18 months, or even two years, to get the right person for our university, then that’s the right length of time,” Callahan said.
In the time since Pelissero left the position, Callahan said she thinks the Office of the Provost has been able to do its work at the same capacity with an interim provost as it would have with a permanent provost, drawing on her past experience as interim provost at Marquette University for two years and of Loyola’s Health Sciences Campus for nearly four.
Callahan also said she doesn’t think long-term decision making in the office has been affected by being under the leadership of an interim provost. She said the office has been able to implement “academic program review,” and do “quite a bit of hiring,” including hiring three new permanent deans and beginning the search to find two more.
Callahan said she isn’t involved with the search process for the new provost, but will be involved in interviewing candidates.
Keough said anyone can submit a recommendation for provost at the Office of the Provost website, and said the committee looks into every recommendation it receives. The committee also hosted four “Provost Listening Sessions” — two in May, two in August — at which faculty, staff and students could share their opinions about characteristics and qualifications the new provost should have. Keough said about 10-15 people attended the May sessions and around 20-25 attended the sessions in August.
The main feedback faculty and students shared at the listening sessions, according to Keough, was how they hope the new provost understands and appreciates all branches of education Loyola offers — health sciences, professional schools and liberal arts — since the single provost will be in charge of the entire university.
Keough said the committee is using the search firm Isaacson, Miller — a professional recruiting service — to find potential candidates who fit what the university is looking for, but it doesn’t provide any input in the ultimate selection.
When the committee receives recommendations, it reaches out to Isaacson, Miller who then conducts background research on the individual to see how well they match the profile the committee is looking for, according to Keough. She said if it’s a good fit between the individual and the profile, the search firm will then contact the individual to see if they would consider leaving their current job and be interested in submitting a formal application to the committee. Keough also said individuals can apply to the position themselves without being reached out to by the search firm.
Keough said the committee is narrowing down its “exhaustive list” of applicants to about eight to 10 candidates to be interviewed. She said the finalists will be chosen by a majority-rule vote of the committee, and will then go through two more rounds of interviews — another one with the committee and one with senior leadership of the Office of the President — before President Rooney makes her decision.
While Johnson said he thinks the committee has done a good job of consulting faculty opinions on the matter, he said he and other AAUP members are concerned about the final selection Rooney will make.
In a letter to the provost search committee from the AAUP last month, members shared further qualifications they think the committee should add to the profile for a new provost, a document obtained by The Phoenix showed.
The letter also showed Johnson and other AAUP members are nervous about the possibility of Rooney choosing a candidate who wasn’t vetted by the search committee, or who didn’t earn the committee’s approval.
“We want to make it clear that [Rooney] should be choosing from the candidates that the committee brings to campus, and not going outside of that process, and all the work they’ve put in, and just picking someone else,” Johnson said.
Keough said the possibility of Rooney selecting a candidate who wasn’t recommended by the committee “wouldn’t happen,” and is “100 percent false.”
When asked whether she thought the university is negatively affected by having only an interim provost, Rooney said in a statement given to The Phoenix by Sarah Howell, a university spokesperson, “In the interim, we are grateful for the leadership of Dr. Callahan who has done an exceptional job in the interim provost role.” The statement also listed several of Callahan’s accomplishments while she’s been in the interim role.
Rooney’s statement from Howell didn’t respond to the claim that Rooney could select a provost the committee doesn’t recommend to her.