Photo courtesy of Millikin University
Photo courtesy of Millikin University

A Check-In with the Interim Provost

November 11, 2021

When Dr. Aper retired as the Provost of Millikin after the Spring 2020 semester, a nation-wide search for his replacement began. Whilst the search for a permanent Provost continues, Millikin has hired Mary Black as the Interim Provost.

I got to sit down with Provost Black and discuss what it means to be Interim Provost and how she is adjusting to her new position as we turn into the second half of the fall semester.

Black broke the Interim Provost position down into its two components and explained what it means to be the Provost and, more specifically, to be the Interim Provost. 

“The Provost serves as the vice president of academic affairs for the University,” Black said, “So, I serve on the Cabinet alongside the president and the other vice presidents…”

The vice presidents who serve alongside her are the vice president of enrollment and marketing, the vice president of alumni and development, and the vice president of student affairs. The athletic director serves on the cabinet as well.

“The cabinet makes kind of the big picture decisions and has big picture conversations for the University. And I represent all of the academic side of the house on that cabinet.”

Black also works with the academic deans, which include the Deans of the Tabor School of Business, the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Professional Studies, and the College of Fine Arts, as well as various other directors in the academic area, like the director of the library and the director of academic effectiveness.

The Provost works in tandem with these positions to, “ensure that we [the university] are delivering on the mission of the institution and supporting student learning and faculty teaching and performance learning opportunities across the curriculum,” Black said.

While Black is handling all of the Provost’s responsibilities for the 2021-2022 school year, her position as Provost is only temporary. 

“Interim just means short-term. Dr. Aper retired at the end of the last academic year and so we decided to have a one-year interim replacement…while we do a national search for a permanent Provost.”

Prior to being appointed as Interim Provost, Black worked as an associate professor and the director of the School of Theatre and Dance. Despite having to leave her old position in SOTAD, Black was both nervous and excited to take over the role of Provost.

“There are a lot of challenges we face in academics particularly in high education right now coming out of the pandemic,” Black said, “And I had had a variety of different opportunities across faculty governance that really kind of got me interested in the overarching picture of how academic affairs functions, things like how we evaluate faculty, how we evaluate student learning, and if there are ways we can make those processes more effective and more efficient.”

Cindy Landacre, who is the Assistant to the Provost, explained that a lot of preparation went into the changing of the Provost position before Dr. Aper’s retirement, and that the preparation has paid off.

“It has been an easy transition,” Landacre said, “Mary and Provost Aper had many meetings to transition to the job last spring, which I think helped tremendously. Mary is a go-getter and ready to take on everything that the position entails.”

As a go-getter, Black was excited to get into the work that many faculty and staff do not enjoy: policies and procedures. Additionally, she was interested in learning more about how the university functions on the academic side beyond teaching. However, as the semester has not gone as initially planned last year, Black has shifted her attention to more pressing matters.

“Well it was particularly an interesting start to the semester,” Black said. “We were facing some real uncertainty as the semester began. As I’m sure students recall, we had initially announced that we would be returning to classes in person and we were hoping to be maskless last summer. Remember that, we were going to be maskless? And kind of everything changed right around the start of the semester: we had the mask mandate, and then a little later in the semester the governor came out with his vaccination mandate, so we’ve really kind of had to focus on COVID policies and ensuring that we’re appropriately meeting all of the best practices.”

Despite the more immediate issues with COVID-19, Black has assured that progress is still being made on the academic side of the university, specifically with faculty evaluations.

“So, we have a lot on our plate right now, but we’re also making some good progress,” Black said, “We’ve made some changes to faculty evaluation procedures of the past year or so that we’re now working to implement, which is exciting work for the faculty even though it may not be so exciting for the students. We’re really looking at how we evaluate faculty, primarily outside the classroom, primarily the obligations that faculty have in scholarship, artistic achievement, and service have been up for consideration recently. And so we’re really kind of  looking closely at how faculty are evaluated on the pieces, particularly at a place where we so highly value teaching.”

As for the rest of her time in her position, Black is ready and optimistic about the work to be done throughout the rest of this semester and into Spring 2021.

“I think there are some things that I wasn’t able to get to in the first part of the semester as we focused on a lot of COVID-related things and I did a lot of learning with things like the academic budget, so I’m really looking forward to be able to work closely with the faculty on things like implementing some more equity, diversity, and inclusion across the faculty and across the curriculum,” Black said.

And as for after this school year, Black is unsure of where she will be yet.

“Next would either be returning to the school of theater and dance as director there or I’m also eligible to apply for the permanent position,” she said. 

The search still continues for the permanent Provost of Millikin, but in the meantime, Provost Black is handling the position with diligence and confidence.

 

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