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Oct. 30, 2014 Volume 36, No. 10

Provost candidate champions ethnic diversity and women in the sciences

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As provost, Michele Wheatly helped create West Virginia University's 2020 strategic plan that was implemented in spring 2011. Photo by Rob Hill.

Michele Wheatly was provost of West Virginia University

MU provost candidate Michele Wheatly spoke Oct. 23 of her academic career in teaching and research at several colleges, including her administrative experience as a former provost at West Virginia University.

During an open forum in the MU Student Center, Wheatly addressed questions about Association of American Universities (AAU) membership, faculty diversity, liberal arts education and her career as a faculty researcher. She spoke of the fiscal challenges most public universities face as state funding for higher education declines.

And she explained why she’s right for the job. “I don’t need to learn how to become a provost," Wheatly said.

The executive vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost is MU’s chief academic officer with responsibility for academic programs, operations, planning and budgeting. Reporting directly to the chancellor, this person is the chief executive officer in the chancellor’s absence. Brian Foster held the title from August 2005 to Dec. 31, 2013. Ken Dean has acted as interim provost since then.

The search firm Isaacson, Miller and MU’s 15-member provost search committee, led by Judy Wall, joint Curators Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, are collaborating on the search.

From January 2010 to June 2014, Wheatly was provost and vice president for academic affairs at West Virginia University, a public land-grant institution in Morgantown, Virginia. It is the flagship institution of the state. She helped create the university’s 2020 strategic plan that was implemented in spring 2011, according to the university’s website. West Virginia has about 32,000 students and an annual operating budget of $2.5 billion.

During her time in the position, general revenue of West Virginia University jumped from $847 million to more than $1 billion, and sponsored research from $87 million to $93 million, according to her resume.

From 2002 to 2009, Wheatly was dean of the College of Science and Mathematics at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. Among her accomplishments was doubling research expenditures — from $6.9 million to $14.9 million. Prior to the appointment, she was chair of the university’s biological sciences department. She was a full professor in zoology at Florida State University after 10 years.

Wheatly holds a doctorate in comparative physiology from Birmingham University in England.

Addressing about 70 people in attendance, Wheatly said that, though her resume can make her sound like “a STEM nerd,” there is much more to her. “I am a broadly educated person” who understands the importance of non-STEM disciplines in the humanities and the arts, she said. “We have to have an appreciation and ways to recognize these other areas of endeavor.”

She said there is value to improving a university’s AAU ranking because it attracts high-ability faculty and students. But the greater purpose is educating students and helping them realize their potential. “We can influence their migration into full-fledged adulthood,” she said.

Wheatly is an advocate of broader ethnic diversity among faculty and more women in the sciences, and she’s passionate about campus safety.

In a discussion of Title IX, she said that, rather than emphasize how students need to protect themselves from situations that might lead to a sexual assault, the focus should be on a cultural shift. “Raise a culture where men and women respect each other and everyone is safe,” Wheatly said.

This year, West Virginia hired E. Gordon Gee as its president. On June 17, Gee announced that Wheatly was being replaced as provost. “He always picks his own provost,” she explained. “No backstory. It’s just under new management.”

At the end of the presentation, Wheatly addressed an issue raised in media reports.

Wheatly and other West Virginia administrators were named in a lawsuit brought by two professors alleging damage to their reputations. Such lawsuits are not uncommon at universities and tend to include the provost. Wheatly dismissed the controversy, saying the alleged incidences predated her time as provost.

“Lawsuits continue year after year, and presidents and provosts keep inheriting them,” she said. “It’s a good story, and it’s not about me.”

If you attended Michele Wheatly's open forum on Oct. 23, and you have not yet completed an evaluation, please provide feedback at the following link. The link closes at 5 p.m. Friday.