By Tyler Vining
Over the summer, GGC began the search for candidates to take on the instrumental role of Senior Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs and Provost. Initial applications and nominations were due by August 19th for consideration.
“Dr. Lois C. Richardson, interim senior vice president for Academic and Student Affairs and provost will lead the transition process as Dr. T.J. Arant assumes the position,” said Sloan Jones, Director of Public Relations. “Dr. Richardson will then continue to provide her expertise in our senior leadership within the institution as we move GGC forward.”
The search began on May 11th when a committee was charged with the selection process by the Office of the President. GGC contracted Myers McRae Executive Search and Consulting and worked directly with consultants Emily Parker Myers and Bobby Pope. The position posting included information ranging from the mission of GGC to a description of Gwinnett County. The position was very popular as 234 individuals applied and 25 had been nominated.
The committee narrowed the strongest candidates down and only 9 were chosen to be interviewed. The interviews were conducted via Skype on September 2nd and 3rd and helped narrow the 9 candidates to the lucky finalists chosen to visit the campus and speak to the faculty, staff, and students.
The finalists included Dr. Michael Austin of Newnan University where he served as Provost and Vice President of Student Affairs. Austin visited the campus on Monday, September 21 and was well received in his open forum.
The next day marked the visit of Dr. Caron St. John of the University of Alabama in Huntsville where she served as Dean of the College of Business Administration. St. John spoke at length about her experience working with student retention trends and patterns but didn’t have experience with diverse populations.
“At UAH I have a somewhat diverse student body, we do recruit a very large number of students from China and we have a large population of African American students,” said St. John. “We did not have a student population that reflects the population which is what I understand this institution does very well.”
Wednesday’s candidate was Dr. Murray Nabors of Missouri Western State University where he served as Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Nabors stressed the importance of communication in much of his open forum.
The final candidate and our future provost, was Dr. T.J. Arant of York College of Pennsylvania where he was the Interim Dean of Academic Affairs.
Arant expressed a diverse background and quick wit during his open forum as he often made jokes about his experiences.
“I was a straight A student in high school, but I was not prepared to succeed [in college],” said Arant who talked about the extra help he received from student affairs, faculty, staff, and other students that allowed him to develop more fully.
The audience applauded Arant multiple times as he gave honest and unconventional answers that showed a deep understanding of the benefits and challenges of being a Grizzly. He effortlessly fielded questions on diversity, fundraising, student success, and technology.
Arant explained that it should be an ongoing effort to “walk students through in a way that develops the ‘whole student’ and that the effort should be ‘united intentionally’.”
“Communication is the most important quality in a new provost,” said Katie Buell, Assistant Director of Wellness Programming who is also Vice-Chair elect for Staff Council and met with each of the candidates.
“One of the candidates said that Student Affairs are just party planners” said Buell, who also mentioned that some of the candidates may have communicated too much.
Many student leaders were critical of the selection of the four finalists being that they did not appear reflective of the demographics of GGC. All were white and only one was female while the college is majority female (54.7% of students) and a majority-minority community (61.3% of students are non-white).
“We are the most ethnically diverse 4 year public or private institution in the southeast, the finalists we were given were not representative of GGC,” said Chase Goodwin, President of SGA. “I mentioned this issue to one of the members on the committee when I saw who the finalists were, I was told that during the Skype interviews there were a lot of ‘them’.”
“There was only one student on the committee, one student representing over 11,000 students at GGC,” said Goodwin. He discussed his role as the SGA President as an elected representative of the student body and felt that he lost an opportunity to fulfill a duty to represent the students.
Though the college has portrayed this process as open and available to the whole community, others thought it was quite ‘under the wraps’.
“I found out on the GGC homepage when they announced it. I was not notified [beforehand],” said Tammy Lu, SGA Senator and Asian Student Association President. “It’s slightly leaving us out, but it’s also the responsibility of the student to know what’s going on in the community.”
“As I listened to each candidate, I paid attention to whether each seemed to have done his or her homework enough to ‘get’ what really makes GGC distinctive,” said Chris Robinson, who works in the Educational Technology office and attended all 4 open forums. “I wanted to hear, from each, specific reasons he or she felt particularly qualified to help us move forward.”
Robinson also paid attention to the candidate’s ability to think on their feet and answer questions clearly. Being able to understand the issues that prompt each question and having ideas to offer make a candidate stand out.
“I’m grateful that GGC opened up this process for us all,” said Robinson. “Dr. Arant seems to understand and share our ideals, and I look forward to his arrival as our new Provost.”
Dr. Arant is anticipated to start as early as January 1, 2016 but no later than July 1, 2016.