May 30, 2008

Who's Next? The Search for Cornell's Next Provost

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The “Dick Cheney” of Cornell University has just left the building,

The University’s Chief Academic Officer, Provost Biddy Martin, has been selected to lead the University of Wisconsin-Madison as Chancellor.

While she’ll be missed, you had to be living under a rock if you didn’t see Martin’s departure approaching. Typically, the Provost position at an institution such as Cornell is a stepping-stone for a presidency or chancellorship at another university (or our own). And an all-star like Biddy was destined to take over at another school.

Cornell Provosts have left Ithaca to assume the presidencies at the Universities of Chicago, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, in addition to Emory University and Clarkson University. In 1969, Dale Corson became the first and only Provost to receive a promotion to the Cornell Presidency.

Now comes the interesting part: who replaces Martin as provost?

While Martin’s predecessor at Wisconsin won’t be stepping down until September, the Chancellor-elect has already stated her intent in news articles to “start before the students arrive in August.”

With President Skorton still being in the infancy of his term as President, don’t be surprised if Martin’s replacement is an internal candidate and is appointed quickly. I’ve identified some potential candidates to succeed Biddy Martin:

David Harris, Deputy Provost, Vice Provost for Social Sciences, and Professor of Sociology: Harris’ promotion to Deputy Provost about a year ago signifies (some in) the administration’s desire to groom him for advancement at Cornell. In the last year, the Northwestern alum and former Michigan faculty member, has worked closely with the Provost on day-to-day activities and has overseen specific initiatives related to Diversity and Admissions (areas that fall directly under the purview of the Provost).

Harris would be an ideal and logical choice. Students who have interacted with him enjoy his candor and fresh perspective on issues that relate to academics and experiences at Cornell. His energetic, no-nonsense style would go a long way in filling the office vacated by Biddy. He also has some experience in the Provost’s Office and the transition would be smoother than others.

Michelle Moody-Adams, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and Professor of Philosophy: Another all-star within Day Hall (and one that is surely destined for bigger things) is Michelle Moody-Adams. After overseeing the New Student Reading Project, the A.D. White Professors-at-Large Program, working alongside Vice President Susan Murphy on a very successful West Campus Housing Initiative, and serving as the Director of Cornell’s Ethics and Public Life program, the transition to the position of Provost would not be a difficult one for Moody-Adams.

Moody-Adams is another ideal candidate from the perspective of undergraduate students. Her approachability and overall ability to relate to the undergraduate experience would ensure an advocate for the undergraduate experience in the Provost’s Office.

Robert Buhrman, Vice Provost for Research: It should be no surprise that the Vice Provost for Research at a major research institution would be on my short list to become the new Provost. Since his appointment last summer, Buhrman (who earned his PhD from Cornell), has served as the Director of Cornell’s Center for Nanoscale Systems. In the last year, he’s overseen Cornell’s research efforts worldwide.

Buhrman has been on the faculty of Cornell since 1973 and currently serves as the John Edson Sweet Professor of Engineering in Cornell’s School of Applied and Engineering Physics. There is no doubt that his experience as a faculty member and Vice Provost would bring a wealth of knowledge to the Provost’s Office.

Should the President wish to stay internal, you may also want to keep an eye out on G. Peter Lepage, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and W. Kent Fuchs, Dean of the College of Engineering. Both Deans have had many years of experience in their current positions. They also oversee two of the largest colleges at Cornell.

Regardless of who the new Provost is, it will be important for that person to continue Biddy’s focus on financial aide and research, in addition to working closely with faculty and students.

C.J. Slicklen ’09 is a senior in the School of Hotel Administration and former President of the Student Assembly. He can be reached at cjs75@cornell.edu.