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Reorganizing the Office of Academic Affairs and establishing the position of Executive Vice President/Provost

Posted Oct. 9, 2019

The University of Akron leadership would like to reorganize the Office of Academic Affairs (OAA) and establish the position of Executive Vice President and Provost (EVP/Provost), combining the duties of the current Executive Vice President/Chief Academic Officer and Executive Vice President/Chief Administrative Officer.

The goal is to complete all the necessary steps in time for the Board of Trustees to adopt a resolution at the October 9, 2019 Board meeting to effectuate the position and authorize the search.

Background

The current administrative structure of the Academic Affairs division of the University of Akron appears to be unique in American higher education. No Ohio public university deploys a similar organization. The structure could not be found in universities in the Big Ten, ACC, or SEC NCAA athletic conferences. The organizational structure has significant operational and leadership disadvantages. The most serious of these is confusion about roles and responsibilities and the absence of clear lines of accountability. Moreover, given the unique structure and the resulting confusion of roles, attracting top candidates to lead the academic division will be extremely difficult. Given the external demands of the research university presidency and the need for strong and innovative academic leadership during a time of transition at The University of Akron, an immediate reorganization and the recruitment of a new academic leader is required.

Main components of the reorganization and leadership search

Two important interrelated steps are necessary to effect the change:  (1) A plan to reorganize the OAA by combining the current “bi-partite” organization must be approved, and implementation set, to coincide with the beginning of the term of the new provost. This step is necessary in order to attract the best candidates to lead the OAA; and  (2) A national search for an EVP/Provost must be initiated with the understanding that the new leader will assume responsibility for the reorganized academic division.

Specifically:

  • The Board resolution to create the EVP/Provost position will also include their determination to reorganize the OAA in the way described above.
  • The position of EVP/Provost will include all the duties of the current “bi-partite” structure with the exception of Human Resources, which will be repositioned in the CFO’s office as is typical in higher education.
  • In order to maintain stability during the transition to the new structure and the new leader, the current structure and the individuals in the two existing EVP positions would continue until the new EVP/Provost is in place. 

Search process

  • President Miller and Board leadership intend to conduct a national search for the new EVP/Provost.
  • The university plans to engage a search firm (Witt/Kieffer) to work with the President and the search committee in this process. This continuity of service by the search firm that knows the University well will help move the process along more quickly.  (Work done in a recent cancelled provost search may be used to inform the search process.)
  • In addition to faculty and academic administrative representation (listed below), the search committee should include the elected leadership of the major constituency groups (University Council, Faculty Senate, Contract Professional Advisory Committee, Staff Employee Advisory Committee, Undergraduate Student Government and Akron-AAUP) as participants in the search process.
  • As a condition of participation on the search committee, all members of the search committee would be required to execute a confidentiality agreement for the initial stage of the search process. The confidentiality requirements would remain in place after the conclusion of the search, except concerning the individuals selected to appear in subsequent public forums.
  • With the assistance of the search firm, the committee will review the candidates and then interview several individuals (the semifinalists) confidentially off-site. The President will interview the same candidates individually during those off-site visits.
  • The committee will, by consensus, advance to the President the names of two to three individuals to be considered for the position of EVP/Provost.
  • Those individuals and any other(s) selected from the semifinalist candidate pool by the President would subsequently be brought to campus for public forums.
  • In keeping with the contract with Akron-AAUP, three Akron-AAUP members would be given the opportunity to provide their perspectives on the finalist candidates to the Board in executive session.
  • The President and the Board of Trustees would interview all of the finalists.
  • The President will select the individual to fill the position and recommend approval by the Board at a subsequent Board meeting.
  • The desire would be to have the new EVP/Provost in place no later than July 1, 2020.

EVP/Provost Search Committee composition

The recommended composition of the EVP/Provost Search Committee will encompass all colleges:

  • a respected faculty leader as chair
  • two deans or associate deans
  • two department chairs/school directors
  • four faculty members
  • six elected leaders of the constituency groups
  • Faculty Senate president
  • Akron-AAUP President
  • University Council President
  • CPAC Chair
  • SEAC Chair
  • USG President

The Committee would be appointed following the October 9, 2019 Board meeting.

Search process rationale

  • The process demonstrates a strong commitment to inclusive shared governance participation in the search for this key leader.
  • The process requires no alteration of contracts or procedures.
  • The process demonstrates a commitment to transparency (public interviews of finalists) while preserving the advantages of confidentiality (early stage confidentiality). [Most Ohio public institutions use this type of “hybrid” search – confidential at the initial stages until approximately three finalists are identified and invited to campus to participate in open forums.]
  • The process meets the contractual right of the Akron-AAUP to meet in executive session with the Board to offer views on the candidates.

Relationship of the Office of Academic Affairs reorganization to dean searches

A key leadership challenge for The University of Akron is recruiting experienced and innovative leaders to dean positions, many of which are currently filled on an interim basis.  While there is some urgency to this, there is a substantial cost to moving ahead with multiple dean searches prior to the reorganization of OAA and prior to the recruitment of a new academic leader. Good candidates will decline to participate in dean searches if they are uncertain about the leadership environment in which they will work. Additionally, there are sweeping University reorganization proposals on the table that may ultimately affect whole colleges, making the future administrative environment appear even more confusing to potential dean candidates. 

We intend to establish the search committees for the deans in October, ask them to prepare the position descriptions, and lay the groundwork for launching the searches in early 2020.  The dean searches will be timed to give the new EVP/Provost significant input into the hiring recommendation. This approach will create a management challenge. However, the best advice suggests that dealing with that challenge is much more desirable than the long-term negative effects of poor dean searches. 

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