Kent State starts search for provost after budget deficits, hiring freezes

Wyatt Loy Reporter

Kent State has officially launched its search for a new senior vice president and provost, a key position whose various oversights influence almost every aspect of students’ academic careers. 

Melody Tankersley, who currently holds the position on an interim basis, formally announced the search in late January. Whoever is hired will start on July 1, the first day of the new fiscal year. 

“The provost makes sure that we’re in compliance with federal and state requirements,” Faculty Senate Chair Pam Grimm said. “They make sure we’re serving the needs of our constituents, making sure our colleges go through the different accreditation processes that they need to go through. But it’s much more than that.”

Grimm said the provost works with the vice president for enrollment management to “look at the landscape of higher education, where demand is shifting and what kinds of skills students are telling us they really need when they get out.”

“President Diacon initially wanted to postpone the search until next year over budget concerns,” Grimm said. “We may have pushed back on that slightly, but you have to respect an administration that’s focusing on their budget.”

In Sept. 2019, Diacon announced a $12 million budget deficit, leading to a hiring freeze for this fiscal year. During this time, no administrative staff will be hired. 

“The university needs a provost,” Grimm said. “A lot of administrative positions are filled by interims and an official appointment can’t be made until we have a provost.”

There is a growing list of positions which report to the provost that have not received official appointments due to the lack of a long-term provost, such as the associate and senior associate provosts, the dean of graduate studies and the deans of the Trumbull and Ashtabula campuses.

“It’s just not fair to ask an interim provost to make those decisions and it’s not fair to the people being appointed,” Grimm said.

Deborah Smith, president of the Kent chapter of the American Association of University Professors, stressed the importance of working with faculty toward a common goal, and said previous provosts before Diacon’s tenure treated unions as “an obstacle to be overcome,” not workers advocating for rights. 

“I hope that whoever gets hired is comfortable with faculty unions, or at least has an open mind about them,” Smith said. “I would also hope that they are comfortable working with numbers and math, specifically around budgets.”

Smith said the provost has an important role with the Faculty Senate Budget Advisory Committee, which is in the midst of a nearly five year long process of reviewing and restructuring the current Responsibility Center Management model of how the university handles budget allocation to the various academic colleges. 

This means that the new provost has a steep learning curve ahead of them, Smith said, as they figure out how to make changes to a system that governs how colleges spend their money. 

“I also think it’s important that whoever takes this position is open to learning our culture,” Smith said. “And not trying to bring the culture of their previous institution with them.”

Tankersley also announced the university is in the early stages of searching for a new vice president for student affairs, currently held on an interim basis by Lamar Hylton.

“Student affairs, and the work that we do, extends the students’ experience outside the classroom,” Hylton said. “Our goal is to contribute to the learning of the student, and provide opportunities and experiences that will allow the student to learn outside of their classroom.”

Hylton, as part of student affairs, said he has turned his primary focus to mental health and wellness on campus, and is working toward the “big-picture” of overall student happiness.

“The provost doesn’t technically oversee student affairs,” Grimm said. “But because our focus at Kent State is all about the students, the provost will often work very closely with student affairs even though it isn’t required of them.”

Combined, student and academic affairs cover everything surrounding the student’s experience at Kent State, from classes to dining to the University Bookstore.

“I’m really excited that we’re going to be searching for a provost this semester,” Grimm said. “I would have been a little happier if we did it earlier, but better late than never, and I really respect the reason for waiting. I’m pretty confident that at the end of the search process, we’ll have a good provost, whoever that may be.”

Wyatt Loy is the administration reporter. Contact him at [email protected]