Faculty Raise Concerns Over Provost Selection

Photo by Graig Graziosi/ The Jambar
Photo by Graig Graziosi/ The Jambar
Photo by Graig Graziosi/ The Jambar

The Oct. 7th Youngstown State University Board of Trustee’s meeting saw Martin Abraham, dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, installed as interim provost of the university, replacing former interim provost Teri Riley.

Abraham’s ascension to the role of provost came as a surprise to many, as Abraham had not applied for the job and was not a member of the final four candidates who visited campus in early September.

The four candidates — David Starrett, Graham Glynn, Nathan Ritchey and Cheryl Torsney — were selected by the provost search committee, a panel of 16 individuals assembled to help select the new provost under the leadership of Chester Cooper, a professor of biology. Despite their selections, Abraham was chosen by President Jim Tressel for the provost position, possibly permanently.

Addressing the Academic Senate last Wednesday, Tressel cited a disagreement among the search committee and Abraham’s qualifications as primary motivating factors in his decision to appoint Abraham to the position.

“The search committee was in charge of compiling candidates, and as we looked at the candidates we came to very different opinions of those selected,” Tressel said. “The polarizing nature of the selection was concerning to me.”

Though Abraham’s qualification for the position were never questioned, some faculty members questioned the methods by which Tressel made the final decision, worrying that the balance of the university’s shared governance between faculty and administration was being corroded.

Diane Barnes, professor of history, conveyed concern over the inclusion of faculty in major decisions at the university.

“[The faculty] get our information from the Vindicator before the administration, and that’s demoralizing,” Barnes said.

Suzanne Diamond, English professor, sought clarification as to whether or not the administration intended to honor the decision of the search committee.

“If there was a committee consensus, would [President Tressel] have honored it? To those 16 people on the committee who put time and effort into the search process, it may be a devaluing experience to know their decisions were disregarded,” Diamond said.

Tressel attempted to lessen the faculty’s concerns, ensuring the assemblage he would have honored the agreement in the face of total consensus.

“Yes, if there was rigorous consensus, I would have honored the search committee’s decision … I think the proof of the success of our decision will come in the value of the [Abraham’s] work,” he said.

A concern of the administration’s decisions shared by several faculty members centered around whether or not the decision to abandon the final four candidates without declaring a new search will hurt YSU’s ability to attract viable candidates in the future. Ellen Jones, assistant professor of the department of theatre and dance, asked President Tressel whether or not he considered the future impact on administration search campaigns.

Michael Jerryson of the department of philosophy and religious studies echoed his concerns.

“When people are applying for a big position, like provost, they’re outing themselves at their universities … you’re relying on the integrity of the college to keep things professional and that your candidacy will be treated professionally. If candidates see a place that ignores finalists to promote internal candidates, they aren’t necessarily going to want to take the risk [of applying],” Jerryson said.

In response to Jones’ question, Tressel admitted he may have overlooked potential future ramifications, but defended the judgment used in making his decision.

“I hadn’t thought of that. I was trying to go with the candidate who had faculty support coming in loud and clear,” he said. “I thought it was the best thing for us to do.”

At the root of the faculty’s concerns was the issue of shared governance and their ability to affect the future of the college. As the position of provost includes overseeing the entire academic staff and strategy of the university, faculty voiced their desire to have a hand in selecting which candidate would best represent their interests.

“I don’t know of many colleges and universities where there is a literal shared governance, usually administration has the ultimate say, but — and I can’t speak for everyone, but this is how I see it from my perspective — what the faculty here seem to want is efforts from the administration to include us in conversations, particularly ones that have to do with education and academic standards,” Jerryson said. “The provost position is at the helm of that … if we’re left out of this, then the concern is, what will we be included in when it comes to education at YSU?”