Chemistry Professor Thomas Stephenson Appointed New Provost

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

This past week, President Chopp announced to the students and faculty that Professor Thomas Stephenson serve as Provost Constance Hungerford’s successor, starting this July. The appointment comes after a lengthy selection process that began this September.

The selection committee of six faculty members (two each from the Natural Sciences, Humanities, and Social Sciences) first reached out to the faculty, inquiring about both the process and the criteria for selection.

After receiving a variety of responses, the committee decided to include external candidates in the search,and made a decision on how they would operate and compiled their own list of criteria. In the following weeks, the faculty was asked for nominations, including self-nominations. Every name that came back to the committee was pursued.

“We tried to encourage as many people as were nominated to continue as candidates. Many declined. A lot of times it’s not only whether someone thinks they have the skills and desire, but whether the timing is right,” said Physics Professor Peter Collings, a committee member.

The search was then narrowed down to five candidates, all of whom were then interviewed. From those interviews, a sub-group was formed of candidates that the committee wanted to learn more about. Once again, the faculty was notified and the six committee members went out and met with each candidate one-on-one.

Following these meetings, the committee reconvened and looked for trends in opinions. They eventually settled on Stephenson and made their recommendation to President Chopp, who approved the decision.

Stephenson will have the opportunity to get his feet wet over the next few months, shadowing Hungerford, who has held the position since 2001. Hungerford was a professor of Art History for twenty years before that.

Many students may not be clear, however, on what exactly a provost does.

The provost is the Chief Academic Officer.

“First of all, I’m the faculty’s representative to the senior administration,” said Hungerford.

The provost is in charge of hiring faculty and faculty development, including the reappointment review and tenure processes. The position entails overseeing academic programs, including libraries, ITS, and athletics. In addition, Hungerford traveled to professional meetings and handled semester leave, along with many other responsibilities.

Stephenson said the job was “like the medical profession in that the first charge ought to be ‘do no harm.’ We have an imaginative, talented and committed faculty, students and staff,” said Stephenson. “My job will be to provide structure, encouragement and support, and then get out of the way.”

Although the work of the provost is new and rewarding for a Swarthmore professor, it also takes him or her away from some of the things that drew them to professorship in the first place.

“I’ve enjoyed the work of the provost,” said Hungerford, “but I’m also looking forward to resuming teaching and I’m looking forward to getting back to my own research.”

“It’s going to be very interesting to learn about the professional lives of my faculty colleagues, particularly those outside the sciences,” said Stephenson. “We have an enormously talented faculty with a range of interests, and I look forward to providing them with all the support and encouragement that I can. Learning about emerging trends in disciplines throughout the College, especially by participating in faculty hiring, is going to be tremendously exciting.”

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