University of Montana provost stepping down, taking on new initiative
Fall morning light shines upon Main Hall at UM. (Provided by the University of Montana)
The University of Montana provost will step down from the second-in-command post at the flagship in May to help launch a new initiative to bolster university partnerships and benefit students.
“The call for change in higher ed is everywhere,” Provost Pardis Mahdavi said in an email to the campus. “The concept is that instead of all universities trying to be all things to all people and ensure expertise in all areas, particularly in a nationally resource-constrained environment, we would work together to leverage the strengths of institutions of higher education to more effectively serve communities.
“My new role enables UM to not just be a part of this change, but rather center UM as a change agent.”
Adrea Lawrence, dean of the Phyllis J. Washington College of Education at UM, will step into the role of provost on May 15. Mahdavi praised Lawrence in her email.
“I have found a steady, thoughtful and strong leader whose passion for education is only rivaled by her passion for the University of Montana,” Mahdavi said.
Mahdavi made the announcement she would lead the “Networked University” earlier this month after less than one year as provost, and she said the transition is “due to a change in personal circumstances.” Last summer, she replaced interim Provost Reed Humphrey, dean of the College of Health, who had filled in after Provost Jon Harbor left in summer 2020 after two years.
Mahdavi will fundraise for Networked University, according to UM. A slide presentation about Networked University notes the goal is to raise $2.1 million for three positions over three years, for her director role, a grant writer and project manager.
In the meantime, Mahdavi will continue to work under her existing UM contract, which runs through June 30, 2024. In May 2022, UM offered Mahdavi a contract of $285,000 a year, plus a $30,000 signing bonus.
The contract also included a $20,000 “relocation payment” during the first 12 months of the job. The bonus and relocation payments have been paid, according to Human Resource Services.
(Mahdavi’s contract with UM included as much as $20,000 for moving services, but the amount paid for moving was not immediately available Thursday.)
Mahdavi came to UM from Arizona State University, where she served as dean of social sciences.
The goal for Networked University is to create a “shared services model” that brings together public universities that have complementary strengths and unique resources, according to a slide presentation from UM about the initiative.
UM spokesperson Dave Kuntz said the university has been focused on bringing more interdisciplinary opportunities to the students, and Networked University is the next step in that effort.
Kuntz said universities need to start innovating with constrained resources, and the initiative continues work Mahdavi started at the flagship.
“Where can we build networks or have shared opportunities to do better for students?” Kuntz said.
The Networked University presentation describes possible relationships with universities that have complementary strengths. For example, it notes UM’s strength in social sciences, the environment and sustainability; Northern Arizona University’s in humanities; and the University of Washington’s in STEM, science, technology, engineering and math.
Kuntz said Mahdavi already has been talking with UW and NAU about partnerships. The new position will require travel and allow her to work remotely, Kuntz said.
He said Mahdavi has not yet talked with Montana State University in Bozeman about Networked University but plans to do so.
The Montana University System has similar partnerships for students in the medical field through WWAMI, named for Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. MUS notes Montana has been part of that collaboration for 50 years, and it includes the UW School of Medicine.
Networked University generally would be a similar setup for all students. Kuntz said the project is in its budding phases, and discussions will involve how to work with other universities in the West to share costs and research.
“What they’re going to start doing is looking for ways students can take advantage of resources at the other universities,” Kuntz said.
The presentation notes the landscape for higher education is changing in the U.S. It cites a Pew Research Center study from 2019 that found just half of Americans believe colleges and universities were having a positive impact on society. It also said a demographic cliff is approaching, and “colleges will struggle even more than during the Great Recession” or the pandemic for money.
Kuntz said UM does not have immediate plans to launch a search for a permanent provost. He said Dan Lee, associate dean in education, will take over for Lawrence at the College of Education.
A few years ago, UM experienced significant churn in top leadership. Kuntz said the provost job has continued to turn over, but the campus has seen leadership stability otherwise, and Lawrence will help.
“With Adrea stepping in, I think we have somebody who is going to be able to hit the ground running, so it won’t feel like someone is new,” Kuntz said.
Note from outgoing provost provided by UM
Dear Campus Community,
I write today to notify you of an adjustment in my position at the University of Montana. Due to a change in personal circumstances, I will be stepping out of the provost role at the end of this semester. This was a choice I agonized over, but after much deliberation, I have realized that I can better serve the institution not as Provost but in a different role. As of May 14, 2023, my role will change from that of Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs to Executive Director for the Networked University.
Although my time as provost is coming to an end, I am excited to continue serving the UM community. As President Bodnar has reiterated, our mission is inclusive prosperity, and it’s important that we provide educational opportunities to the broadest group of learners as possible. With President Bodnar’s support and partnership, I am excited and honored to lead this initiative where I will better be able to support that mission by shifting my focus to a new project desperately needed in higher education today.
The Networked University approach has long been lauded by higher ed leaders like Michael Crow of Arizona State University and Ana Mari Cauce of the University of Washington. The call for change in higher ed is everywhere. The concept is that instead of all universities trying to be all things to all people and ensure expertise in all areas, particularly in a nationally resource constrained environment, we would work together to leverage the strengths of institutions of higher education to more effectively serve communities. My new role enables UM to not just be a part of this change, but rather center UM as a change agent.
As I write this, I have already begun the foundational work for this new initiative. I am pleased to continue serving an institution that quickly won my heart. Montana is a special place, and this work is critical, not only to the University, but also to higher ed as a whole as we fight the growing perception that higher learning fostered at our great institutions lacks value.
Adrea Lawrence will begin as Interim Provost on May 15. In Adrea, I have found a steady, thoughtful and strong leader whose passion for education is only rivaled by her passion for the University of Montana.
I am grateful for President Bodnar’s leadership and partnership while I served as provost, and I look forward to continuing my strong partnership with him as we serve the University of Montana. I am beyond grateful to have served as the provost and am proud of what we are accomplishing together. I remain committed to the University’s mission of inclusive prosperity – a mission that I know matters now more than ever.
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