The Daily Gamecock

New provost Donna Arnett plans to improve USC by listening to faculty

<p>USC provost, Donna Arnett poses on the Columbia campus. Donna Arnett, former Dean of Public Health at the University of Kentucky, was selected as USC's newest provost in April 2022.</p>
USC provost, Donna Arnett poses on the Columbia campus. Donna Arnett, former Dean of Public Health at the University of Kentucky, was selected as USC's newest provost in April 2022.

Donna Arnett has prioritized communicating above all else since officially beginning her role as provost on Aug. 1.

Arnett has established a variety of goals to embrace USC's flagship status, establish more nationally recognized programs and demonstrate the value of faculty and staff input.

Arnett, who has had an expansive career as the former Dean of Public Health at the University of Kentucky,  president of the National Heart Association, professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota and chair of epidemiology at the University of Alabama Birmingham was selected as USC provost in April 2022

The role of provost is one of many vacancies that was filled after new university President Michael Amiridis took office July, 1, 2022.

Arnett said she was drawn to USC because of its status as a flagship university — a high-achieving public university with state funding. 

"We are the flagship, and what I love about the University of South Carolina is it embraces that flagship status, and I think that's one of the things that excites the students," Arnett said. 

The new provost said she plans to continue providing high-quality research and classes for students by supporting strong USC programs such as psychology, international business and nursing while working to "identify and grow new programs of excellence."

“I know there’s wonderful things going on at the University of South Carolina, you can feel it amongst the students, and I want to take those wonderful pieces, identify them, find them,” Arnett said. 

While Arnett has not been in office long, Assistant Provost and Arnett's Chief of Staff Mary Alexander said she has made progress as a collaborative leader.

“She is learning quickly," Alexander said. "She is getting the information she needs to move forward. She is just being collaborative, which is exactly what we need right now, and we’re excited that she’s planning on staying for a while to bring stability to the institution." 

Arnett said she sees value in creating innovative programs for faculty focused on their resilience and well-being and wants to boost opportunities to hear faculty points of view. 

She has already begun focusing on her plan to let USC faculty and staff voice their opinions through a listening tour. During this four to six-month tour, Arnett will visit each of the colleges to speak with faculty and hear their perspectives.

“The university has gone through, in the role of provost, a lot of change, and I want to hear from the faculty directly about how they have experienced that, but, more importantly, what they dream and hope for in this next decade,” Arnett said.

Amiridis was the last provost to embark on a listening tour when he started in the position in 2009. This tour will put heavy emphasis on listening to faculty feedback, which Arnett considers essential. 

“One of my key values as a leader is really listening, authentically listening and understanding people and issues and situations,” Arnett said. 

In the past, faculty have noted that provosts have experienced difficulties in making their position accessible and understandable to USC faculty and staff. 

“One of the things provosts have struggled with is creating that communication bond so that people can understand ... what they did and why they did it,” professor of management and Chair of the Faculty Senate Audrey Korsgaard said. 

So far, Arnett has been trying to "make sure there's a lot of communication between the provost office and the faculty," according to Korsgaard. 

USC has experienced a great deal of turnover in the role recently with three provosts leaving within the last ten years, but Arnett says she is here to stay.

"This is my last job. I want to do it, and I'm not retiring," Arnett said.