The Daily Gamecock

Column: Provost-elect Donna Arnett has her work cut out for her

<p>FILE—The west entrance of McKissick Museum on Feb. 28, 2022. &nbsp;</p>
FILE—The west entrance of McKissick Museum on Feb. 28, 2022.  

While Donna Arnett, the provost-elect, is a good fit for USC, she needs to work with different people on campus, push diversity and inclusion in all areas of campus and retain faculty members. 

On April 14, Arnett, the dean of Public Health at the University of Kentucky, was announced by the board of trustees as the new executive vice president for Academic Affairs and provost of USC, replacing interim Provost Stephen Cutler

Arnett was one of three finalists that visited USC the week of March 21 and participated in forums to inform the USC community about their intentions as potential provost. 

Arnett is very qualified for the job as she has experience being a faculty member, a chair member and a dean at her old school. 

She also has support from faculty members such as Kathryn Luchok, an instructor of Women and Gender Studies at USC, and Audrey Korsgaard, a professor of management and the chair of the faculty senate. The faculty senate along with the help of both interim President Pastides and President-elect Amiridis worked together to pick Arnett.  

"I do know that this is a person that our incoming president feels really good about and will be able to work with very effectively," Korsgaard said. 

The provost and president work closely when making decisions like how to spend the budget and ensuring the university keep its accreditation, so people in these high leadership positions must be on the same page about the university's wellbeing. 

As the university settles into its new normal, hopefully with the bulk of the pandemic behind us, Arnett must lead the university through a tumultuous time. The battle to teach critical race theory prevails and there has been movement in the SC Statehouse to limit the things professors can teach. 

To handle these topics, our provost must take advantage of shared governance, which is the partnership between the president, the provost and faculty members. Everyone needs to work together in order to create a space where both students and faculty feel valued and safe.

"We want someone who is committed to shared governance, someone who similarly believes that universities work best as collegial communities, where colleagues consult one another," Carol Harrison, a professor of history and president of the American Association of University Professors campus chapter, said. 

Faculty, staff and students have a different perspective than the senior management team does. There needs to be a conversation that takes each group's concerns into consideration when making decisions. This will create not only a thriving campus but also make all parts of campus happier.

Another area Arnett will need to focus on is diversity and inclusion. She must work with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to make sure that all students feel comfortable on campus and have a safe space to learn. 

USC should be representative of the nation. USC Columbia's population of undergraduate African American students is 10.2%, coming in 3 percentage points under the national population of 13.2%. Arnett should increase not only the African American representation but the representation of all races and ethnicities.

"I think we're making steps to be a more inclusive campus from all angles," Luchok said, "from student ability, from racial inequities and economic inequities, etc. So I think there's kind of a will, but I think having a provost in place who is sensitive to those issues can only elevate it more." 

The last issue extends beyond USC: the Great Resignation, a recent trend of higher turnover rates for jobs. In other words, people are exiting the workforce before retirement age. This could result in staffing shortages on campus.

It's important that Arnett, who is in charge of faculty hiring, promotion, retention and tenure doesn't fall victim to high turnover rate and makes sure to keep the faculty we have. 

"Finding ways to attract and retain faculty and staff is a concern for all of us," Korsgaard said. "Working to keep our best (employees) is a constant challenge right now, so I'm hoping that our provost and the whole senior management team can help make that happen on both the faculty and staff side." 

Arnett seems to have a plan for the future. Her three main areas of interest that she mentioned in the forum were to ignite student success, build academic and research excellence and include diversity and inclusion in all aspects of her job.

Hopefully, she will listen to faculty, staff and students about issues around campus and take them into consideration when making important decisions. The university is looking at a new start this fall with many different senior positions around the campus changing. Arnett needs to be able to fit into this change in a way that will benefit the university. 


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