Two months after receiving an overwhelming vote of "no confidence," Rhode Island School of Design Provost Jessie Shefrin announced today she will step down when her contract expires June 30 to "take a well-deserved sabbatical," according to a statement from RISD President John Maeda. She has served as provost for three years.
Shefrin's resignation follows several tumultuous weeks for RISD, after its faculty voted "no confidence" in the president and provost March 2 by a margin of 147-32. The vote was triggered by administrators' plans to merge the Division of Architecture and Design and the Division of Fine Arts into a single Division of Undergraduate Studies. In the face of continued faculty opposition to the plan following the vote, Shefrin announced April 22 that the proposal had been abandoned.
"It's been known for a while that her contract is coming up for a renewal," said Mark Sherman, chair of the Faculty Steering Committee and an associate English professor, adding that he expects to hear of further reasons for Shefrin's departure in coming days.
"If you just think about the logic of an institution and the pressures that the RISD administration finds itself under at the moment, then (Shefrin's resignation) is one of a number of moves that could have been made," Sherman said.
"The position of provost is an extraordinarily difficult one," he added. "There's no assuming that the provost has any kind of autonomy — an administrator serves at the behest of the administration. … It's quite possible that she was doing exactly what they asked her to do, and it didn't go over well."
Maeda will name an interim provost in coming weeks to serve a one-year term starting July 1. The administration is forming a faculty advisory group to aid the search, said Jaime Marland, director of media relations at RISD. Maeda will form a search committee for a new provost this fall.
The effect of Shefrin's resignation on relations between faculty and the administration "depends on who they bring in," said Misha Kahn, a RISD senior and vice president of the Student Alliance Executive Committee. "There are some wounds to heal, so it might be nice to have someone who understood the faculty point of view more clearly."
From students' perspective, the campus had returned to an atmosphere of calm since the March "no confidence" vote, said RISD senior and Student Alliance Executive Committee President Naomi Mishkin. "The email went out to students this afternoon, and it was sort of like this shock through the student body that was like, ‘Oh right, we are in the midst of all this drama.'"
"I think students see it as some sort of a resolution," she said, but "there are still a lot of issues to be worked out with the administration."