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Professors speak up after Folt forgoes provost search process

On Sept. 18, Bob Blouin replaced Jim Dean as provost and executive vice chancellor without a campus search committee or faculty input, a decision that has bothered some UNC professors. 

Blouin, who had served as dean of the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy since 2003, was selected by Chancellor Carol Folt in August and approved by the Board of Trustees soon after.

Dean, who took office in July 2013, was selected after a four-month process in which a search committee, including faculty members, evaluated candidates from across the country. 

Altha Cravey, an associate professor of geography, said faculty should be involved in important decisions, like the appointment of a new provost.

“Anger has been at the top of the reactions I’ve seen. Disbelief, but mostly anger,” Cravey said. “We shouldn’t be getting an email announcement of something like this.”

Folt announced Blouin’s appointment in a campus-wide email Aug. 22.  

“When I thought about who could fill this role, I believe we already have the best candidate at the University who could begin working immediately to ensure we maintain momentum as we enter the new academic year,” Folt said in the email.

W. Fitzhugh Brundage, chair of the University’s history department, said the decision caught him by surprise. 

“I didn’t even notice the email from the chancellor, and then one of my colleagues asked what I thought about the new provost and I said, ‘What? We have a new provost?’” Brundage said.

In a statement, UNC spokesperson Joanne Peters Denny said Blouin's immediate appointment was necessary given timely challenges that are critical to the University's future, like developing a new budget. 

“The chancellor made the decision to act quickly and accelerate the transition process so that a new provost could begin to share major leadership responsibilities with her as early in this academic year as possible,” Denny said.

Denny also cited past precedent.

In 2006, Chancellor Emeritus James Moeser promoted a sitting UNC dean to provost without a search process. Bernadette Gray-Little, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, was approved by the Board of Trustees shortly after her executive appointment.

Still, Brundage said Blouin acknowledged the odd circumstances of his appointment at a lunch with College of Arts and Sciences department heads Sept. 29. 

“He actually addressed the fact that many of us were probably surprised when his appointment was announced,” Brundage said.

Astronomy professor Bruce Carney, who served as provost and executive vice chancellor from 2009 to 2013, was also appointed outside of a formal search process.

Carney, who stepped down in 2013 to return to his research in the department of physics and astronomy, served as interim dean for eight months while the University conducted its search process for a permanent fix. Candidates from across the country applied and were interviewed by a search committee in Chapel Hill. 

After much deliberation, former Chancellor Holden Thorp decided his best option was already in place.

“(Thorp) had already talked to all the deans to make sure it was okay with them,” Carney said. “So I was appointed, but not as part of the formal search itself.”

Carney said while Blouin’s appointment process was unusual, it is probably okay.

“The question really is, ‘Is the Chancellor required to advertise such a position and have the best search or not?’” Carney said.

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Cravey says yes. Her frustration with the administration has been building since former UNC-system President Tom Ross was forced to resign in January 2015.

Her most recent misgiving, the surprise appointment of Blouin, prompted Cravey, the incoming president of UNC’s American Association of University Professors chapter, to take action.

“The AAUP chapter on campus hasn’t been meeting in the past couple of years,” Cravey said. “This act of disrespect for faculty will probably energize that."

UNC history professor Louis Pérez called upon the University’s senior administrators to establish protocol for future appointments like Blouin’s.

“There are sometimes full-scale searches, and sometimes there are not,” Pérez said. “In the absence of any established protocol or any established consensus on appointment of senior administrators, folks have a pretty wide-open field to deem what they think is best in their own judgment.”


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