Valparaiso University is in the midst of numerous personnel changes; namely the shift of the interim provost position, effective Feb. 15.
Current interim provost, Rick Gillman, will retire on Feb. 12 after serving Valpo for 35 years, ten of which were spent in the provost office. Gillman assumed the interim position after former provost Mark Biermann stepped down in Aug. 2020.
Eric Johnson, a Valpo alum and the present Dean of Engineering, is set to take the role. Johnson has been with the university since 1997.
For the six and a half months Gillman has been interim provost, his primary area of focus has been to guide the University through a semester of COVID-19 precautions. Exploring online alternatives, adjusting class sizes for social distancing and adding mask mandates have been an essential part in achieving this.
“The major change I’ve accomplished is we are reorganizing the graduate school, so that instead of it being its own school, which implies it has its own programs and its own faculty, what it will become is an administrative support unit so that the academic programs live within the academic colleges,” Gillman said.
Interim provost-to-be Johnson, will be overseeing all the university’s academics and working closely with President-Elect Jose Padilla. Similar to Gillman, Johnson will concentrate on restructuring the graduate program within the coming months.
“[An] area I will focus on is looking at expanding some of our graduate offerings, especially in the online space,” Johnson said. “We will always be an undergraduate focused institution, but really to make sure we survive financially, we need to find other avenues of revenue including a strong graduate presence.”
Along with the graduate program, Johnson plans to create more concise and clear communication between the provost office, faculty, staff and students. Recruitment of students is another category Johnson looks forward to revamping while in the position, as the pandemic has caused difficulties in gaining new student interest.
“We are a tuition driven institution, we need to have students here,” Johnson said.
Current students are part of Johnson’s plans as well. Interacting with the university and understanding the negative concerns, challenges and positive feedback is how Johnson intends to achieve a better student experience in academics and overall campus life. The connections Johnson has made as the Dean of Engineering is what he strives to reflect on the institutional level.
“My focus is going to be on the student experience, we should be student centered in everything we do and so I want to make sure we’re doing that. Whether it’s faculty, staff, the registrar’s office and anything on the staff side,” said Johnson.
Not only will Johnson be serving as interim provost, but he is part of a large group of potential candidates for the permanent position. Valpo is utilizing a national company, WittKieffer, to aid them in the search for the provost role, as well as a board composed of various individuals.
“We’ve hired a national search firm to help us find candidates for the provost position. We have a committee of 12 people, there are four non-faculty and eight faculty across the University on this committee,” said Gillman and added, “The search firm helps us get a diverse pool. The committee will be SPA trained, this is Search Process Advocate training so they minimize their inherent biases.”
While the search for a new provost continues, other institutional changes are occurring. Within the provost office, the Associate Provost for Inclusion and Retention, Stacey Miller, has stepped down from the position. Byron Martin, the present executive director of intercultural and international engagement, will become interim associate provost.
Valpo has also named two new individuals for roles outside the provost office. Deondra Devitt, the current assistant director of human resource services, added the title of Title IX Coordinator. This will include Devitt implementing Valpo’s sexual misconduct, non-discrimination and harrassment policies. The other individual, Katherine Museus Dabay, was named the next Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) University pastor.