June 25, 2008

Skorton Names David Harris as Interim Provost

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Updated June 24

Plans have quickly fallen into place to find the University’s next chief academic officer. Less than three weeks after Provost Biddy Martin’s announcement that she will leave Cornell to become the next chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, President David Skorton named Deputy Provost David Harris to temporarily fill her position. Harris will serve as interim provost until Martin’s successor is chosen, according to the University.

This came as little surprise to those who have been speculating who will fill Martin’s shoes. However, Harris stated that he does not wish to be the next permanent provost.

“My term as interim provost will be marked by steady progress,” Harris told the University. “I do not have any interest in being considered as the next provost. This is not the right time in my life or in my career to pursue the position.”

A search team has been set in motion to look for the next chief academic officer. The committee — comprised of students, faculty, administrators and staff members — will work over the summer to make a list of interested candidates and narrow down its possibilities. In the fall, the finalists’ names will be presented to Skorton.

Skorton appointed the members of the team, which will be lead by Prof. Martha Haynes, astronomy, and will include two students: Ryan Lavin, president of the Student Assembly, and Michelle Leinfelder, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly.

The committee — which will meet by phone and teleconference next week — is in its most preliminary stages, and members have yet to be informed how the selection process will progress. But Haynes expressed the desire for everyone in the Cornell community to be able to have input in an open and transparent provost search.

“We want to set up a mechanism whereby the entire Cornell community can nominate people,” Haynes said. “One of the most important things about a search chair is that he or she doesn’t have any [particular candidate] in mind. We want to hear nominations come in from different corners of the University. We also want to get out information as to what the job is and what we’re looking for.”

Haynes, who is currently involved in two searches for astronomy-related organizations as well, also said that Skorton wants the candidate to be chosen internally. As is usual for Cornell, no one outside of the University will be considered for the position.

“One of the reasons Cornell looks internally to its provost is because it is a very diverse and wonderfully complicated place,” Haynes said. “Especially because David is new, finding a provost from within makes a lot of sense in this case. We need someone who brings familiarity on a day to day basis. “
However, replacing Martin is a challenge that Haynes recognizes will be hard, especially considering that Martin will have no overlap with the new provost.

“Biddy was provost for a quite a long period of time,” she said. “You can look around campus and see how the campus is growing. Taking on a job after someone who is very competent and committed to Cornell is always tough.”

This may mean that the next provost will be someone who has worked extensively with Martin in the past. Haynes added that the most important aspect in searching for the right provost will be finding someone who complements Skorton well.

Other members of the search team include Dean Harry Katz, industrial and labor relations; Prof. J. Sheinkman, industrial and labor relations; Prof. Carlos Bustamante, biological statistics and computational biology; Prof. Paulette Clancy, chemical and bio-molecular engineering; Prof. Robert Frank, management and economics; Prof. Sandra Greene, history; Charles Phlegar, vice president of Alumni Affairs and Development; and Brian Cornell, chair of the Employee Assembly.

Meanwhile, Martin is facing a public controversy among Wisconsin state legislators in Madison, where some state representatives have been picking apart her track record and questioning her credentials. Martin is expected to take up her new post in September.

Please continue to check back for more updates regarding this developing story.