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The Pathway to Provost

2022 has brought many changes to the UIS campus. Not the least of these changes are found within the university’s administration. In July, Janet Gooch stepped into her role as Chancellor for the University of Illinois Springfield. Chancellor Gooch, after three months in the role, sent an email on Oct. 24 to faculty and staff, announcing, “Provost Dennis Papini has shared with me his decision to step down from his role as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost.”

Dr. Dennis Papini began his position as Provost in 2017. The Coalition of Concerned Professors issued a vote of no confidence in the spring of 2022. Following the vote, there was no talk of action or correction until his abrupt announcement to step down in October. The Chancellor’s email explained, “The university community will be kept informed of the next steps regarding appointing an interim and, ultimately, the process for recruiting and hiring the next provost of the University of Illinois Springfield.” It would appear that the pathway to a new provost is not a simple one.

Proceeding the provost stepping down, a new administrative position, the Vice Chancellor for Enrollment and Retention Management, was created and appointed to Vickie Cook, who was previously serving as Associate Vice Chancellor for Enrollment & Online, Professional and Engaged Learning. Including the provost position, there are three vice chancellor positions and two dean positions currently posted for the university administration, the provost being the highest priority.

Why is the provost position so important? The university’s academic-affairs office explains that it is the mission of the provost’s office to exercise “leadership in the formulation of academic policies and ensure adherence to those policies. It coordinates university planning and budgeting activities and promotes innovation in teaching, research, and service.” Ultimately, a provost’s job is to see that all of the major organizations of the university are working together productively, if not in harmony, and that the work provided is also financially beneficial.

The search for an interim provost commenced. When the interview process was almost completed, Gooch sent an email to the whole of UIS on Dec. 5, providing an update and offering a final invitation for any input. It was said that “I wanted to provide the opportunity for faculty and staff to share their thoughts regarding the areas in which the interim provost should focus during their brief time with us.”

On Monday, Jan. 9, Dr. Linda M. Delene was appointed UIS Interim Provost/Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. Delene began her career in higher education as a faculty member in 1977 as an Associate Professor of Marketing at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Throughout her time there, she served in various roles, including administrative positions. She was named provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs in 2004. Delene was honored by the Michigan legislature for her work in higher education in 2008. She has most recently served as Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at SUNY Brockport and Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina.

Now that a temporary provost is in place, the search for a permanent provost is underway. In personal communication with Monica Kroft, the administrative assistant for the provost, she explains the current search process: “Assisted by the WittKieffer executive search firm. Vickie Cook, Vice Chancellor for Enrollment and Retention Management, has been asked to chair the search. In accordance with the university’s policy on Major Administrative Searches, various constituency groups have been asked to recommend/nominate members to serve on the search advisory committee after the Campus Senate recommended to the chancellor the number of representatives to serve from the various groups. Interim Provost Delene is expected to serve until a permanent provost has been hired. The goal is a July 1, 2023 hire.”

With the interim provost in place, it could mean stability and perhaps a slowdown of excitement for the university – but no one really knows what could be around the corner on the pathway to the provost.

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