Thu 23 Sep 2010
This is the fourth installment in our week-long seminar on President Adam Falk’s letter about the “alignment of senior administrative responsibilities.” Consider his discussion about the proposed vice president of finance.
The responsibilities of the Provost have also grown considerably in the past decade, and I believe we should consider some refocusing here as well.
As a matter of simple history, this is false. The year 2000 was not that long ago and, if anything, the responsibilities of the Provost have decreased, not increased. You think that Williams pays Stephen Klass hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to sit around? No. Klass does many of the things that, a decade ago, the Provost would have done. Even looking at those roles, like budget-setting, that have continued in the Provost’s office, there is no reason to believe that these have gotten meaningfully more complex. Running the College’s finances was a hard job in 2000 (ask Cappy Hill!) and it is a hard job today.
It’s critical that this position remain one in which Bill Lenhart’s successors are responsible for the College’s overall budget priorities and the marshalling of academic resources for new and existing programs. It’s also important that faculty continue to exert leadership in such areas as Admissions, Financial Aid, the Museum, the Libraries, and Information Technology. But the financially challenging world that we’ve entered and are likely to remain in for the foreseeable future requires sophisticated leadership in complex areas such as treasury, finance, audit, reporting, debt management, and budget operations.
We already have highly trained and experienced staff working on these topics. You think Associate Provost Keith Finan is an idiot? You think that Budget Director Tom Dwyer is a moron? Untrue! These are skilled professionals. They, obviously, need to keep up with changes in auditing requirements and whatnot, but, first, they already do so and, second, the College hires (and should hire) outside professionals to handle some of these matters.
As always, if the College were rolling in money, then spending $250,000 to hire another senior administrator might be reasonable. But Williams currently offers significantly less generous financial aid than Amherst. Until that problem is fixed, there should be a hiring freeze.
To provide this, we should consider creating a position perhaps called Vice President for Finance, which could take these technical duties, along with allied functions currently under Steve Klass, such as Human Resources, Real Estate, and Legal Affairs.
An experienced observer pointed out to me that Falk is being quite aggressive in suggesting these changes. Typically, a college president would first appoint a committee (perhaps staffed by those who agree with him) and charge it with studying the (hard!) question of college organization. The committee would then survey peer institutions, talk to stakeholders and issue a report. Falk skipped all those steps. If I were a faculty member, I would wonder what other steps he might skip in the future . . .
Doing so would open the Provost’s position to faculty in all departments, and bring to bear the kind of experienced financial expertise that I believe the College needs in these increasingly challenging times.
This is perhaps the most dishonest part of Falk’s letter. Provosts don’t spend their time doing dynamic programming. No math beyond algebra is required. No computer knowledge beyond Excel is used. And, even with the algebra and Excel, you have Finan and Dwyer to do the heavy lifting. Any Williams professor interested in the Provost position today could handle the demands of the job. That Provosts (just at Williams?) tend to come from numbery fields (like economics and computer science) is merely a reflection of both the sorts of people who are interested in such a role and/or the applicant profile that Williams presidents seem to have preferred historically.
The Provost then could be freed to focus on moving forward our top academic priorities. Close collaboration between the Provost and the Vice President for Finance would be essential, especially in developing the annual budget. In this key process, the Provost’s responsibility would be to develop the College’s budgetary priorities, and the Vice President for Finance’s to see that those priorities are reflected in the actual budget that is presented to the Board.
“Be freed to focus” is code for “have his power significantly reduced.”
If it were the case that no faculty member at Williams wanted to be Provost given the demands of the job, then it would make sense to decrease those demands by hiring more senior administrators. But I have never heard that. Has anyone? My understanding is that many (5? 10?) faculty members at Williams would like to be Provost because a) It is an interesting job, b) They sometimes day-dream about being a college president and the Provost position provides a useful stepping stone, c) They want Williams to go in a specific direction and the Provost has some power to do that, and d) The money is good.
Does anyone know if Lenhardt was the only candidate for Provost five years ago?
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