Tap Butler for provost


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A competent provost at the University of Iowa will be crucial in the coming years.

Enrollment is increasing and state funding is decreasing, which means that administrators will need to be prudent and innovative in their budgeting. UI officials seek to fill the provost position left vacant by Wallace Loh, a position designed to ensure that the colleges and departments have the resources to accomplish their goals while keeping the university financially solvent — in other words, it’s the provost’s job to allocate this tight funding.

To ensure the UI emerges strongly from the financial crisis, the new provost will need to be someone with an established track record of building programs and improving schools. Current interim Provost P. Barry Butler has the requisite track record and a commitment to maintaining quality of education despite increasing enrollment, keeping a university education accessible to students, and promoting sustainability on campus. The DI Editorial Board urges President Sally Mason to appoint Butler to the more permanent position.

Provost candidates from outside the UI, Yash Gupta, the Johns Hopkins Carey School of Business dean, and Uday Sukhatme, the vice chancellor at Indiana University/Purdue University-Indianapolis, visited campus in the last two weeks to promote their vision (Butler also gave a presentation April 26).

Gupta’s résumé includes dean positions at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Washington, and the University of Southern California. During Gupta’s tenure at those schools, their prestige and funding increased. Gupta’s appointment would be a boon for the Tippie College of Business, because he would have a unique understanding of the school’s needs.

But Gupta’s April 29 presentation lacked the necessary specifics. He provided little information on how he would translate his past successes to the University of Iowa, and he avoided answering the more difficult questions from faculty. The future provost needs to be transparent with faculty and able to communicate well with the deans, and Gupta did not exhibit that necessary ability.

Sukhatme was more impressive. He has substantive success at building programs, including a large faculty expansion while he was the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the SUNY-Buffalo, as well as a drastic increase in funding and prestige at Indiana University/Purdue University-Indianapolis, where he is the executive vice chancellor (a similar position to the UI provost).

Sukhatme touted strategic initiatives he introduced at the Indianapolis school, including showcasing the success of smaller programs to gain support for larger ones and improving the four-year graduation rate, and he emphasized interdisciplinary studies with a pragmatic approach to funding.

Sukhatme also placed a huge emphasis on educational quality, and emphasized his success in raising revenue from other sources at the Indianapolis university — an important skill in the face of continued state funding cuts. “I don’t believe that provosts should play zero-sum games,” Sukhatme said. “The financial climate is not ideal, but I always look for ways to expand the resource base.”

Butler has been the interim dean since Wallace Loh’s departure, and he has a long career at the UI. Butler is widely respected in the field of engineering, and he has been interacting well with all of the deans at the university during his time in Jessup Hall.

Additionally, he has done an efficient and effective job implementing Loh’s five-year strategic plan, and he has shown himself to be an advocate for the areas that we feel should be important to a provost — including preparing schools for increased enrollment, as he did as dean of the College of Engineering. Butler is also the head of the Iowa Wind Energy Association and maintains a strong commitment to sustainability.

Of the three candidates, either Butler or Sukhatme would make an excellent provost. But Butler has shown a strong connection to the UI, which may motivate him to stay in the Provost’s Office longer than the other candidates.

“In the last 12 years, I’ve had to work with five provosts,” said John Keller, the dean of the Graduate College. “It’s difficult to keep establishing new relationships and goals.”

Interim Provost Butler will be the best candidate to work with the different colleges and continue the fostering of relationships and goals across disciplines, and beyond the near future.

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