One step forward, two steps back in provost search

With Associate Provost Jill Bryant returning to academia in the summer, the university awaits recommendations from the President’s committee before making final decisions or a hiring call.

Jack Fischer, News Reporter

Associate Provost Jill Bryant, who has been serving as the acting provost for Hamline since this Summer, has announced her plans to return to the world of academia at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. She plans to serve through the end of this academic term, with no official last day yet. “It’s my love,” Bryant said about teaching. At Mitchell Hamline School of Law, Bryant will return to teaching upper-level business courses on business ethics, corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions.

Her decision to return to teaching intensifies pressure on President Fayneese Miller’s administration to determine what to do with the Office of the Provost. Bryant has been serving as the acting provost since this summer when the previous provost was asked to step down. Miller has intentionally moved not to hire a new provost for the time being for a couple of strategic reasons: to engage in a review of the office and create space for community dialogue, and because the search process for a high-ranking university job is expensive.

When universities perform a search for high-ranking positions, they hire an external search firm to conduct a nationwide recruitment. External search firms are expensive. 

“It’s about at least $125,000, and the search firm charges you not just a fee to conduct the search, but also a portion of that person’s salary,” Miller said. “[It’s] one of the reasons why I decided to delay moving forward.” 

Colleges and universities nationwide have faced intense economic fallout due to the pandemic. Hamline is no exception — enrollment for this year has been stunted, a tuition deficit that will follow the university for at least four years. 

Miller also said she was hesitant to conduct a search because of the potential impacts of the pandemic on the applicant pool.

For the remainder of the academic year and her term as acting provost, Bryant is focusing on creating a Strategic Enrollment Plan for the university. 

“We’ve been engaged in understanding our retention numbers, making sure leadership has access to tools to understand where we are now, and what retention looks like,” Bryant said. 

One of the biggest challenges to retention right now is the cost of attendance and tuition increases, according to Bryant. The strategic enrollment plan is a tool to help leadership understand how and why students leave the university, and to investigate what resources are available to deter them from leaving pre-graduation.

Miller has formed a committee of faculty, staff and students to start a dialogue about the Office of the Provost. 

“[The] purpose of that committee is not only to serve as a search committee but to also review the office. And to find out what does Hamline need, and what do we need a provost to do,” Miller said.

She will wait for their recommendations before making a final decision on the office or performing a search. The last time the university hired an independent search firm was to hire Miller as university president. 

Bryant said the university does not necessarily need to hire a search firm to facilitate that hiring. Although it would provide a wider pool of applicants, she notes the previous provost, John Matachek, was hired from Hamline’s existing faculty. He previously and currently works in Hamline’s Chemistry Department. 

The President’s Committee is expected to meet in the coming month, and will be chaired by Professor Sam Imbo. Senior Lecturer Nancy Webber and Professors Binnur Ozkececi-Taner, Serena King, Joe Lewis, David Berg and Rebecca Neal will also serve on the committee. Steve Anderson from Student Affairs and Morgan Henderson from Advancement will serve alongside HUSC President Kaia Zeigler and VP Cecelia Miller, the student representatives on the committee. Assistant Provost Caroline Hilk and VP for Inclusive Excellence David Everett will serve as committee liaisons, and Amanda Roll-Khune from the Provost’s office will sit on as staff support.