Step Aside, Deanlettes. The Provost Fellows Have Arrived.

The following news item has appeared in this week’s digital newsletter from the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education:

“A Google search for the term ‘chief diversity officer’ delivers 5.6 million results. Many colleges and universities across the world have added an administrative post with the title of chief diversity officer in recent years. At some educational institutions, students have protested demanding that such an official be appointed.

“But at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, the position of chief diversity officer has just been eliminated. The position was created six years ago and was held by G. Christine Taylor. Dr. Taylor is no longer employed by the university. Before joining the staff at Purdue in 2009, Dr. Taylor was associate vice president for institutional diversity at Miami University in Ohio. She is a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University and holds master’s and doctoral degrees from Ohio State University.

“Provost Debasish Dutta will assume authority over all the university’s diversity programs, all of which will be continued. Dr. Dutta has not been pleased with the progress, or lack thereof, of increasing the diversity of the university’s faculty.

“Dr. Dutta is appointing two faculty members as provost fellows to help him with his new workload. The first appointee is Venetria K. Patton, a professor of English and African American studies. Dr. Patton is also director of the African American Studies and Research Center at the university. Professor Patton is a graduate of the University of La Verne in California. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Riverside.”

I have to admit that if someone other than Mitch Daniels were the president of Purdue University, I would probably not have done more than skim the news item.

But, in one of my posts on Daniel’s cost-cutting at the university, I pointed out that the Chicago Tribune’s assertion that Daniels is “re-inventing higher education is ludicrous—that the cost-cutting is all too commonplace, rather than innovative, and that the savings are not nearly as significant as they might seem. Here is the end of that post:

“Indeed, despite the assertion that ‘no savings is too small,’ the specific savings that are cited are not just small but absolutely minuscule in the context of Purdue’s annual operating budget of $2.32 billion. In calculating those savings as percentages of that total budget, one would need to be prepared to insert a series of zeros after the decimal point.

“The slant of this article is very reminiscent of the rhetoric from Far-Right politicians who argue that cutting the funding to the NEA or to PBS will represent significant progress toward cutting federal budget deficits. Such an argument relies on the audience’s inability to appreciate in any meaningful way the vast differences between millions, billions, and trillions of dollars.

“Worse, the article in the Chicago Tribune actually identifies where the potential for real savings is—putting the lie to Daniels’ assertion that big savings are not available–but it gives him a pass for not yet having addressed that issue is any meaningful or even in any superficial way:

“’Daniels faces huge challenges but has a target-rich environment: Purdue has far higher administrative costs than its peer institutions. It has 75 percent more administrators and staff on the payroll than it did 13 years ago, the Journal reports—a phenomenon of higher-ed bloat hardly limited to bucolic West Lafayette.’

“Imagine what the headlines will be if Daniels ever starts cutting a significant percentage of those high-salaried positions, bringing to that task the intensity of focus that he has brought to selling off some old cars and repurposing some used office furniture.”

[The full post, titled “Mitch Daniels, Re-Inventor of American Higher Education,” is available at: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/19/mitch-daniels-re-inventor-of-american-higher-education/. I followed it with another post, titled “More Innovation from Mitch Danields, which is available at: https://academeblog.org/2014/09/09/more-innovation-from-mitch-daniels/.]

So, when I saw the item in the JBHE newsletter, I assumed that the elimination of the position of Chief Diversity Officer at Purdue was perhaps being justified as part of a new effort to address and to reduce administrative bloat—which, given Daniel’s ideological beliefs, would have seemed extremely dubious explanation, at best.

But, in this case, institutional politics, rather than broader ideological stances, seem to be involved in the administrative restructuring.

That said, I cannot help but wonder why, if the Chief Diversity Officer’s performance was somehow found to be deficient, she was not simply replaced. Certainly, there are advantages to having a Chief Diversity Officer who is not also the Provost, or the chief academic officer. More specifically, there are certainly advantages to having a Chief Diversity Officer whose primary focus is on diversity issues–who can concentrate on staying current on the broad variety of issues and the ever-evolving nature of the issues related to increasing diversity in higher education.

Moreover, I cannot help but notice that one administrative position is being replaced by two—with an administrative title, “provost fellow,” that I have never seen before.

To be truthful, I am less interested in what is actually occurring at Purdue than I am in trying to digest any new administrative machinations that become apparent at any large institutions—because, if anything has become very abundantly clear, it is that almost no administrative “innovation” occurs in a vacuum, that almost everything that might seem to be singular is very quickly replicated or actually turns out to be itself a replication of something that has already occurred elsewhere.

So, I expect that “provost fellows” may become a new administrative phenomenon—a more broadly appealing title because it suggests a temporary, rather than a permanent or even an entrenched, appointment, because it sounds more academic than bureaucratic, and because it does not seem as if it would be as expensive as a “vice president” or an “associate provost” would be.

And, of course, I suspect that none of those impressions or assumptions will end up being accurate.

 

 

4 thoughts on “Step Aside, Deanlettes. The Provost Fellows Have Arrived.

  1. Google had over 9000 “hits” on “Provost Fellow.” One job description that I saw (it was to be a temporary position) was for a Provost Fellow for Diversity and Inclusion, and questions were to be sent to the Acting Assistant Provost but the application itself to the Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. Yes, they have arrived.

  2. My understanding from observations at UIUC is that these “fellows” are one year, often part-time appointments for faculty at that same institution. It’s a way for administrators to hedge their bets and not appoint someone permanently who might develop an independent agenda.

Your comments are welcome. They must be relevant to the topic at hand and must not contain advertisements, degrade others, or violate laws or considerations of privacy. We encourage the use of your real name, but do not prohibit pseudonyms as long as you don’t impersonate a real person.