Provost search narrows down to four finalists

The search for a new provost, following James Lentini’s resignation, is reaching its last stages as the committee has selected its final four candidates. Margo DelliCarpini, Chris McCord, Renée Middleton and Britt Rios-Ellis went through multiple rounds of interviews to be considered as the president’s pick for the position.

After Lentini announced his resignation at the beginning of the winter 2020 semester, the university has been getting community feedback on the search as Michelle Piskulich serves as interim provost for the time being. 

The week of Aug. 17 began the last round of interviews for the finalists, which allowed for community members compiled of students, staff and faculty to ask questions and give feedback on the four. 

Margo DelliCarpini

The New York native serves as the current University of Texas at San Antonino vice provost for strategic educational partnerships and dean of the College of Education and Human Development. DelliCarpini talked about how her own untraditional path has influenced her involvement with higher education. As someone who attended college later in life, she carries a lot of empathy for students who need extra support and guidance in their education. 

DelliCarpini still teaches a class once a year to maintain a personal connection with students, despite her administrative position. She hopes to do the same at Oakland University. 

“My number one goal would be to make Oakland University a destination campus for students,” she said. “What that means is that it would be a place that students are completely attracted to coming, and once they get there, their pathway is clear, their degree plans are very clear.”

She is also very committed to an intersectional understanding of diversity and equity for students, staff and faulty. 

“It is imperative that we use the privilege that we have to make sure that others don’t just have a seat at the table, but they have a voice at the table,” she said.

Chris McCord

McCord recently served as acting executive vice president and provost at Northern Illinois University. He touched on how his experience in different higher education roles has prepared him to take on a multifaceted leadership position like the office of the provost. The mathematician by trade believes that the ability to see the university from different aspects will allow him to serve the campus community in a more well-rounded way. 

With research taking the forefront of his focus, McCord recognized OU as a research institution that can expand their opportunities to more students, especially undergraduates. 

“Seeing a university that clearly orients itself around those goals [of research and diversity, equity and inclusion], that tells me this is a good fit for me,” he said. “This is a place whose aspirations line up with my own, and if I can help you move in this direction, I’m advancing causes that matter deeply to me.”

During the shift to online learning, McCord sees an opportunity to expand the hybrid and virtual model in a post-pandemic college experience. 

“We’re continuing with the need for remote learning,” he said. “How much of that do we need to make permanent? How much do we need to now think about hybrid courses? … How much are we ready to offer that not just on an emergent basis to meet this current need, but as part of our instructional mix?”

Renée Middleton

The dean of the Gladys W. and David H. Patton College of Education at Ohio University places an emphasis on strong communication channels between students, faculty and higher administration. She likes OU’s well-rounded educational opportunities and student base and hopes to increase opportunities for direct student feedback while in the provost role. 

When asked by student leaders, Middleton said her plan for the role is to serve the students’ needs and provide a service for them.

“One of the first things I would do is to talk to student groups like yourself and hear from you,” she said. “What would be of importance to you? I’m not coming in with any set agenda. I want to be responsive to what you think, what your ideas are, what would be meaningful to you.”

To Middleton, OU’s focus on diversity, equity and inclusion is a big draw. She likes campuses where “everyone looks different,” and wants to encourage that at OU.

“As provost, I want to shape an environment that’s inclusive of everybody,” she said.

Britt Rios-Ellis

Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Rios-Ellis was the founding dean of the College of Health Sciences and Human Services at California State University, Monterey Bay. Bilingual in English and Spanish, Rios-Ellis has a strong background in diversity initiatives, from race related projects to LGBTQIA+ programs. She believes her commitment to these issues will improve OU’s educational and social experience. 

“Equity is the lens, we don’t need equality,” she said. “I think when you look at historic policy errors, it’s by making things equal, and not everybody needs the same thing to have the same opportunities. People need what they need to help themselves be whole. So, I like the analogy of ‘what we already have is diversity, inclusive excellence are the tools we use to get there, but equity is the goal.’”

Rios-Ellis believes a hands-on experience is vital for students’ education, and hopes to increase opportunities for community-based learning as she has done in her current position in California. She also believes her level-headed leadership style will help navigate the community. 

“I think you’d find me to be a very calm leader and a very responsive leader, not a reactive leader,” she said.

President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz will announce the new provost in September.