Katherine Na, Ethan Tan
In a campus-wide email sent on Monday, Feb. 3, President Paul J. Fitzgerald announced that, effective this week, Provost Donald E. Heller will be stepping down from his position. While Heller will no longer be serving as provost and vice president of academic affairs, he will remain at the University “in the short term” as an employee to assist in the transition to new leadership, according to the email.
In an email to the Foghorn, Heller said, “I am saddened to be stepping down from my role as Provost and extremely proud of what I have accomplished in the past four years,” citing endeavors such as the launches of the Black Achievement Success and Engagement (BASE) program, Honors College, and engineering school.
When asked to comment on the specifics of the timeline surrounding Heller’s resignation, as well as his remaining time at the University, Fitzgerald said in an email to the Foghorn, “We cannot comment in detail related to the timing, employee agreement, or particulars of any USF personnel matter — including this one.”
This announcement comes on the heels of the USF Full-Time Faculty Association’s (USFFA) historic vote of no confidence in Heller on Dec. 22, in which 92% of participating members voted “no confidence” in Heller, citing “ineffective academic leadership,” “declining faculty, staff, and student morale,” and a “failure to demonstrate meaningful commitment to shared governance.” In response to the vote, Heller had said that he was reflecting on the concerns the USFFA raised, and Fitzgerald had stated that he would enact a “360-degree review” of the provost, along with a review of the University’s administrative structure.
In an email to the Foghorn, USFFA President Sonja Martin Poole said, “Don Heller’s decision to resign has cleared the path for improved shared governance and increased transparency at USF, which are critical for all decisions going forward. We appreciate Fr. Fitzgerald’s leadership and the strength of his response to our community. He has demonstrated that he respects the faculty and sees us as true partners in serving our students and advancing our mission.”
The USF Part Time Faculty Association (USFPTA) had recently called for a 360-degree review of all members of leadership at USF. In response to the news of the provost’s resignation, USFPTA President John Higgins said in an email to the Foghorn, “The crisis in leadership at USF can not be blamed on a single person, but the actions and decisions of the entire leadership team.”
In the USFFA’s email statement, Poole added, “We thank Don Heller for his service and wish him well in his future endeavors. We look at this resolution as a fresh start for us all.”
Fitzgerald’s email named Dean of Libraries Tyrone Cannon as the interim provost. Cannon has held the dean position for the past 24 years, making him the longest currently serving dean at the University. Cannon will be advised by two former provosts: Heller and James L. Wiser. Wiser will also advise the eventual permanent appointee to the provost post.
Speaking to the decision to appoint Cannon as interim provost, Fitzgerald said, “I believe that Dr. Cannon, as the most senior academic dean at USF, possesses the experience, the skills, knowledge, dedication, and judgement to help in unifying the community around our common purpose — the success of our students, the support of faculty research and creative activities, and the educational support services that our faculty, librarians and academic staff provide on a daily basis.”
In his campus-wide email, Fitzgerald announced that he would soon be naming a search committee to identify a permanent provost “in close consultation with [his] leadership team, members of the faculty leadership, and student leaders.” To the Foghorn, he said, “I will reach out to leaders across the university to solicit thoughts and suggestions about the qualities that members of our community would like to see in our next provost.”
Heller said, “I do not expect to be involved in the search process at all.”
Several faculty members expressed that they hoped for increased partnership between faculty and University administration during the search for a new provost. Poole said, “We are hopeful that students, staff and faculty will be at the table and have meaningful input when the new provost is chosen.”
When asked on Feb. 3 if student senators had been approached about joining the search committee, ASUSF Senate Vice President of Internal Affairs Cassie Murphy said, “Nobody’s reached out to us, but it’s obviously really new. So I expect and I hope that they will reach out to us. And if not, we will ask to be included in those conversations.”
Higgins emphasized that, moving forward from Heller’s departure, the USFPTA still recommends a review of the members of University administration, saying, “We continue to call for this type of evaluation to facilitate accountability on the part of management and management designees at all levels of the University.”
Annika Dahlberg and Holden Fatheree contributed to the reporting of this story.