DePaul faculty council, president spar over provost search

DePaul’s Faculty Council leadership and President A. Gabriel Esteban are at an impasse on whether to conduct a formal review of Interim Provost Salma Ghanem due to issues of shared governance.

DePaul Newsline sent out an announcement from President Esteban on Nov. 13 revealing that the search for a new provost had begun. With this announcement, Esteban also mentioned that due to the uncertain environment that DePaul is currently operating as a result of Covid-19, a committee of faculty, staff, a student selected by SGA and board members was tasked with conducting a “an exhaustive formal review of the performance of the interim provost to determine if a national search is necessary.” 

The Faculty Council leadership has objected to this proposed process because it violates how shared governance operates in the Faculty Handbook.

“The role of the Provost is central to the academic life of the university, and we as faculty have a special responsibility for ensuring that the Provost is selected in a way that is consistent with the principles of shared governance as laid out in the Faculty Handbook, particularly in sections 1.2.1 and 1.2.2,” said Faculty Council President Scott Paeth. “Many faculty believe that this is best accomplished through a national search for Provost with a robust representation from among the faculty.” 

The provost is at the top of the university’s hierarchy, running Academic Affairs. According to the Faculty Handbook section 2.2.1, the provost has the overall responsibility of monitoring academic appointments. In doing so, the provost implements policies and procedures that adhere to general university guidelines, while considering faculty employment. 

Even though most of the responsibility in the selection process resides with deans and other academic office personnel, the provost still plays a significant role as they are the top of the communication hierarchy for these groups. 

The Faculty Council leadership and President Esteban have been through discussions over the practice of shared governance and how it affects the review of Ghanem. Section 1.2.2 of the Faculty Handbook lays out that the Faculty Council has participatory responsibilities when it comes to shared governance including: Oversight of administrators, establishment or dissolution of administrative offices and major changes in administrative structure. It also lists primary responsibilities which generally

showcase educational interests and policies. 

The Faculty Council wants to ensure that the provost is chosen through the robust representation of the faculty, according to Paeth.

President Esteban responded to faculty’s concerns about shared governance and assuring that it will be utilized in the search for the provost. Esteban also said he has followed the processes of shared governance, from section 1.2 of the Faculty Handbook. However, even with participation of the faculty, the Board of Trustees ultimately appoints the provost. 

President A. Gabriel Esteban. (Courtesy of DePaul University)

“Even so, the board and I are in agreement that the appointment of a permanent provost requires meaningful consultation with faculty,” the email read. “The consultation and participation should be substantive, given the significant faculty interest in the appointment of a permanent provost, which is exactly what the review process offers.”

The email to the faculty also addresses how a review of Ghanem’s performance would determine if a national search for a new provost is necessary. Four faculty will be chosen for the review process, along with five trustees, two staff members, a dean, a student, a representative from the Office of the Provost and a representative from the Office of the President. 

Esteban added there are now two executive positions lingering and that stability is necessary for the university, referring to the resignation of Chief Financial Officer Jeff Bethke.

Esteban further shamed the faculty members for what he called an “adversarial tone” in response to the search, calling for compromise.

“I am saddened by the unnecessarily adversarial tone of some in response to this process,” Esteban said in the email. “We are all working in service of this institution and our students, and we do our best work together.”

Paeth responded, bringing up inaccuracies in Esteban’s email, saying it’s untrue that Esteban said the Faculty Council refused to staff the provost committee. Paeth said that the council hasn’t taken up the question because they were still in ongoing discussions with the President’s office to best go about the review. Paeth also said that the proposal’s response with “all or nothing” demands was inaccurate, as leaders offered “two alternative proposals.” 

“The first was an expedited national search during this academic year, and the second was a performance review this year as proposed, but with a national search next year to fill the permanent position,” Paeth said.

The issue has still not been resolved as President Esteban plans to address the council in January.

It is my hope that we can still arrive at a meeting of the minds,” Paeth said.

Ghanem took the role as acting provost in 2018 and then was later appointed to be the interim provost in 2019. According to her administration page, prior to taking the position, Ghanem joined DePaul in 2014 and served as the dean of DePaul’s College of Communication before stepping into the provost role. Prior to that, she served as dean of College of Communication at Central Michigan University and the University of Texas Pan American. She also served as a press and information officer at the Press Office at the Egyptian Mission to the United Nations Headquarters in New York. 

Ghanem is originally from Egypt and has gained intercultural experience with living in different places across the world while obtaining fluency in Arabic, French and competency in Spanish. 

Her contract as interim provost ends on June 30, 2022. Even though both the Faculty Council and the administration have decided on a national search for the provost, shared governance is breached with the notion of doing this exhaustive review on Ghanem. 

“The issue is not with Interim Provost Ghanem, whom many faculty believe has done an exemplary job,” Paeth said. “The concerns have to do with process, best practices, and the faculty responsibility for shared governance in university’s academic work. Interim Provost Ghanem continues to have the support of many faculty members,” Paeth said.