Search for provost narrows down candidates

Leah Bryce

Over the course of the semester, the administration and Board of Regents have been on the hunt for a new provost. Four candidates, James Johnston, Kenya Taylor, Monica Varner and Jerold Hale were selected to interview on campus April 4-11. The provost and vice president for academic affairs is the chief academic officer of the University and its second-ranking official. They are directly responsible to the president for the administration, budgeting and staffing of all academic programs, including outreach and engagement.

“It’s an opportunity to collaborate with colleagues, to craft a vision and then help to achieve those goals,” Johnston said.

The first candidate Johnston, interim provost and dean of health sciences and human services. He is an MSU alumnus and has been an employee of MSU since 2003. The provost is responsible for the curriculum; revision and development of new courses of study, including distance learning; the encouragement of research; the development of class schedules; the maintenance of adequate library services; and the recruitment and evaluation of instructional personnel.

“I know believe that my strengths and experience will allow me to serve as MSU’s next provost.” Johnston said. “I feel I have a vision for opportunity and growth.”

As the only internal candidate Johnston is a well-known face throughout campus. The second interview candidate, Varner works at Southwestern Oklahoma State University as the associate provost for academic affairs, accreditation liaison officer and HLC peer corps reviewer.

“I love teaching. I love my content, I love my discipline, but I also love working as an administrator. I would say my philosophy is that as a counselor I was client centered, as a faculty I was student centered, but as an administrator I’m employee centered,” Varner said.

Over the course of her career, Varner has worked or consulted in about eight universities and junior colleges. She is also a licensed counselor.

“I am here to be a resource, to help lead in the things that will make your job better, and the resource that are available to help you fulfill your role and to advance the institution as a whole,” Varner said. “To really make sure that we are sustainable and successful at what we do, so that the students, most importantly, are successful and complete.”

The next candidate, Taylor, is the associate vice chancellor for academic and student affairs and dean of graduate studies and research at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

“When I took over as chair of communication disorders, the department was on probation with its national accrediting agency,” Taylor said. “I led the faculty in revising the curriculum, increasing graduate enrollments, upgrading the speech science laboratory and hiring new faculty. As a result we were granted a full eight-year accreditation cycle.”

During her career, Taylor has worked at about four universities, including two Texas universities, TCU and University of Dallas.

“These experiences have reinforced for me the value of being fully prepared and the necessity of dealing honestly, tactfully and respectfully with a wide variety of university officials, government staff members and agency officials and staff,” Taylor said. “I enjoy representing the university to the public, local, state and national levels, and I am ready and enthusiastic about continuing this responsibility.”

The final candidate, Hale, is the dean of the school of humanities and social sciences at the the College of Charleston. He worked the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 2010-2013 and the University of Georgia from 2000-2009.

“I think it [student advising] is essential. It puts a premium on academic advising especially as students are coming in,” Hale said. “The other thing it does is it puts a premium on things like trying to do scheduling that is a bit more student centered and a little less faculty centered along the way.”

According to Hale, he never considered himself to be an academic vagabonds until he looked at my vita recently. The bulk of his 26 year-career has been spent at two places: Miami University in southwest Ohio and at the University of Georgia.

“I have engaged in strategic planning process as a department head and dean,” Hale said. “At each level, I also participated in making certain strategic plans were consistent with overarching college and university plans. I am a firm believer in a strategic planning and find it essential in a higher education environment that is increasingly challenged for resources.”

The interviews are one of the final steps in choosing the new provost, but the final decision has not been announced.