University News

RISD president’s contract renewed

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, March 2, 2012

The Rhode Island School of Design’s Board of Trustees renewed President John Maeda’s contract through June 30, 2015 last weekend. The renewal comes almost a year after the faculty voted “no confidence” in Maeda and former Provost Jessie Shefrin, who resigned last May.

Interim Associate Provost for Academic Affairs Patricia Phillips, interim Dean of Graduate Studies Brian Goldberg and acting Dean of Fine Arts Anais Missakian will also continue their roles for the 2012-13 academic year, allowing “significant consistency in our administrative ranks” as the search for a new permanent provost and dean of architecture and design continues, wrote Director of Media Relations Jaime Marland in an email to The Herald.

After the no confidence vote last spring, “students were left conflicted and confused,” wrote junior Carly Ayres, president of the Undergraduate Student Alliance, in an email to The Herald.

Since then, there have been “a lot of substantial changes” to the structure of the administration, said RISD Professor of Architecture Anne Tate. These changes include new deans, the reorganization of mid-level academic administration and more collaboration among deans, faculty and the provost’s office.

“This year is an enormously improved climate from last year,” Tate said.

Part of the improvement stems from Maeda’s decision to charge deans and the associate provost with leading the strategic planning process, according to Phillips, the interim associate provost. Their elevated involvement has contributed to higher levels of communication and consultation with students and has increased the role of deans in academic councils.

“In what should be a period of chaos and upheaval, it’s been extremely stable,” Tate said, adding that “people have been very happy” with Maeda’s and the interim deans’ performances. A vote last fall reflected the faculty’s enthusiastic satisfaction with the interim deans and Interim Provost Rosanne Somerson, she added.

Maeda has made the conscious choice to let the provost work with the academic sector as its advocate, Tate said, adding that this is how the faculty has always perceived the role of the provost. She said Maeda has opted not to be involved in certain issues, letting the faculty have more control over some areas of the curriculum.

To assist the process of finding a new provost, the search committee is working with Sage Search Partners, a search firm that serves educational institutions and nonprofit organizations. Phillips, who is the chair of the search committee, said the firm visits campus frequently to meet with different leadership groups and called the process “open and consultative.” The committee will start looking more closely at specific candidates at its next meeting March 14, she said.

The committee is seeking an intellectual and innovative leader who will “embrace the goals and objectives of the strategic plan,” Phillips said. She added that the new provost should understand the potential and power of collaboration. “None of us do this work alone,” she said.

At its meeting last weekend, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to endorse RISD’s five-year strategic plan, which the faculty strongly supported in a December vote. The plan is a “living document that’s going to help us guide our decisions and the way we work together and establish our priorities,” Phillips said. It focuses on issues of hiring new faculty, supporting new departmental and divisional structures to develop new areas of strength, improving graduate student research and increasing research opportunities in the undergraduate program.

One of the plan’s central goals is engagement, on both the local and global scale, Phillips said, and it aims to address how “RISD can be an even more active and consequential institution.”

This year has already seen a major influx of student involvement on campus, Ayres said. Students have formed more new clubs this year than in the past two years combined, taking on leadership roles within their academic departments as well as in the Providence community. Ayres attributes this “surge in involvement” to a “reinvigorated student body,” resulting in part from Maeda’s recent approach to reaching out to the community.

Despite discord among faculty and administration last year, Maeda’s leadership has contributed to several unequaled achievements. During his presidency, RISD has received more six-figure scholarships from individual donors than ever before in its 130-year history, and its rate of tuition increase is the lowest in decades, Marland wrote. In a letter accepting his contract renewal, Maeda wrote that he will “continue to strive to make a RISD education more accessible” and that fundraising efforts will “remain an ongoing priority.”

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