July 19, 2008

Provost's Office Reorganizes in Wake of Departures

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As the Cornell community says goodbye to Biddy Martin, the longest serving provost in the University’s history, the Office of the Provost welcomes an addition and a few vacancies.

As the search for the next provost is being conducted, David Harris, deputy provost and vice-provost for social sciences, will act as interim provost. No one has else been named to serve as deputy provost or vice provost for social sciences in the interim period, and Harris will continue to carry out his duties. In addition, an opening remains for the position of vice provost for diversity and chief diversity officer.

One addition to the provost’s office is Prof. Alice Pell, animal science, director of the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development, who has been appointed vice provost for international relations.

“As most of us know, Biddy Martin will be leaving as provost and going to Wisconsin to assume chancellorship, Robert Harris has ended his term as vice provost for diversity and chief diversity officer and David Wippman is stepping down as vice provost for international relations,” said Harris. “As of now, Professor Pell has been the only replacement announced.”

The search for replacements and the transition to a new provost is expected to proceed without problems.

“It is an extremely talented group of people who work as a team to advance the institution’s interests. They are responsible for the effectiveness of the office and deserve credit for the gains we have made over the past eight years,” Martin stated in an e-mail. “Their experience and skills will allow the provost’s office to run smoothly and effectively through the transition to a new provost and beyond.”

The recent changes in the provost’s office should not have any effect on the initiatives already implemented by Cornell, but will hinder the introduction of any new initiatives, as Harris says he has no intention of altering or introducing new plans for the University.

“My term as interim provost won’t in any way affect the initiatives already in place. They have already been approved and set in motion … I have no plans to implement any particular new initiatives. It would only create unnecessary problems.”

Harris, who is not being considered for the role of permanent provost, believes that those decisions that will effect considerable change should be left for the next provost.

“It doesn’t seem smart to me to push forward any new changes when in three or four months the new provost could disagree with my decisions. We want to keep pushing the initiatives we are already committed to,” he said.

The reorganization of the provost’s office will require the staff to work together to fill voids in the administration. Harris depends upon his co-workers to help carry out his duties as vice provost for social sciences as he fills in for Martin.

“I will continue to work on the social sciences, albeit in close collaboration with others. It would not be good if we let that just sit for several months. We need to continue building on the momentum that has been created in recent years. We are all making sure to work very hard and, importantly, together,” Harris said.

The new vice provost for international relations, Pell, is just one of the vice provosts with whom Harris will collaborate with. She will be replacing Wippman, who resigned to assume the position of dean of the University of Minnesota Law School.

Wippman supports the appointment of Pell, noting her previous and continuing work in Africa and Afghanistan.

“Pell will be superb for the job. I’ve worked with her over the past several years. She has extraordinary international experience. Her work with CIIFAD and Bahir Dar will prove beneficial. She has done consulting in Afghanistan and Africa, she’s extremely knowledgeable in international issues. She’ll be dynamic and very productive,” Wippman said.

Pell will spend much of her time working with the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, CIIFAD and the study abroad office. She said she plans on making the University more aware of its involvement in issues overseas and will also implement a new program that will focus on the improvement of life in rural and poverty-stricken Africa. She desires to extend the borders of the Cornell community and help C.U. realize the potential it possesses to help those internationally.

“Because of the breadth of Cornell’s programs, from veterinary medicine to the humanities to programs in the social sciences and a long history of working internationally, we have huge potential and I hope we can come together and realize that potential,” she said.

Despite the appointment of Pell, the departures of Martin and R. Harris from the provost’s office, will require more collaboration between members of the provost’s staff to offset the openings.

Elsewhere in the administration, however, things are becoming more settled. The University recently announced that Interim Dean Alan Mathios will assume the Human Ecology deanship and Kent Kleinman will lead the College of Architecture, Art and Planning as its next dean.