Spectrum | Jun. 18 8:57 pm EST

Who might replace outgoing provost Claude Steele?

News Editor Leah Greenbaum had a chance to talk to several insiders across campus about the vacated Provost position.

As Claude Steele packs his bags this month, President Bollinger is left with some tough decisions about who will take over the Office of the Provost both in the interim and for good. Steele’s sudden departure from MoHi came as a surprise to many, so Bollinger’s next pick will have to be a pretty solid fit.

But the man’s got options:

The candidate: Nicholas Dirks

Current position: Executive Vice President for Arts and Sciences, Professor of Anthropology and History

Why he might be the next provost: By many accounts around campus, Dirks is the most natural choice at this time. He was less than subtle about his interest in the position in 2009 and some insiders say he was a close second to surprise-pick Steele. He is ex-officio member to every governance board on campus and has a close relationship to the faculty and knack for working out unique solutions to perennial concerns about the budget of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Why he might not get it: FAS is consistently over budget year-to-year, which could count as a strike against him for provost, a job that’s all about balancing the University’s budget.

The candidate: Peter Awn

Current position: Dean of the School of General Studies, Professor of Religion

Why he might be the next provost: Awn has received almost universal praise from GS students and faculty. 114 students and counting have joined a rather witty Facebook group to support his candidacy for provost, declaring “Dean Awn needs to run the University because he would leave a disgusting mess of awesome in his wake.” Like Dirks, he seems destined for bigger things at the University.

Why he might not get it: Looks like Awn loves his current gig. While provost is certainly a step up the ladder most of the work of the Provost is often responsible for some unpleasant work around campus. This year Steele presented unpopular budget cuts to the faculty, navigated the thorny issue of tenure reform, and did damage control following big complaints about the Northwest Corner Building. That kind of work can bring a guy down and who knows if the always-cheerful Awn is really up to it.

The candidate: Andrew “Andy” Davidson

Current position: Executive Vice Dean of the Mailman School of Public Health, Vice Provost for Academic Planning

Why he might be the next provost: As Steele’s number two, who’s been closely involved in many of his ongoing projects (the review of fringe benefits, a new diversity program, tenure reform, etc…) Davidson would be a natural choice to continue overseeing that work. He’s also one of the few frontrunners who comes from the sciences, which might be a valuable credential as the University looks ahead toward the planned Mind, Brain, Behavior Initiative in Manhattanville and continues to trying to attract top science faculty with the Northwest Corner Building.

Why he might not get it: Bollinger might look for someone outside the provost’s office, following Steele’s surprising departure. He might also be looking for someone more connected to the Morningside campus.

The candidate: Sharyn O’Halloran

Current position: Political Science professor, chair of the Executive Committee of the University Senate

Why she might be the next provost: O’Halloran is a dark horse candidate here. She’s one tough cookie who presides over some of the prickliest USenate committees with staid professionalism and gravitas. Some sources argue that she earned her keep this year after the USenate’s relatively smooth, four month review of ROTC.

Why she might not get it: For a provost O’Halloran would be pretty young. While she’s a strong manager in the Senate, she doesn’t always come off as a galvanizing leader or popular advocate among faculty members. It’s also unclear how much weight her role in the Senate actually carries with PrezBo. Maybe in the future Columbia will see our first female provost in O’Halloran, but for now it looks like a long shot.

PrezBo may also surprise us with another outsider like Steele (but that’s not likely in the interim), choose to move a dean like Michele Moody-Adams of Columbia College up the ranks, or might make the refreshing choice to pull someone from SEAS into the central administration. My guess is that science credentials, a good track record, and a candidate who’s proven they’re on par with the University’s larger mission, will make the difference here.




  1. '13 • June 18, 2011 at 11:45 pm • Reply


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  2. fake pundit • June 19, 2011 at 12:15 am • Reply

    does dirks really want that job? isn’t his current job maybe a better one–a lot of influence but fewer headaches?

    AWN. the man. everyone will love him. but would prezbo really pick someone whose famous dome might threaten his own hair/popularity?

    o’halloran–no WAY does prezbo allow the pick to be someone who has the senate as a top credential.

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  3. Anonymous • June 19, 2011 at 7:05 pm • Reply

    You missed one important person, Dean Zvi Galil. Columbia University cannot be that great if without him. President Bollinger should try his best to get Dean Galil back to Columbia.

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    • Agree • June 20, 2011 at 9:15 am • Reply

      Zvi FTW.

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      • alum • June 24, 2011 at 1:19 pm •

        zvi took seas leaps and bounds, we would be very lucky to have him back

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  4. CU Alum • June 20, 2011 at 3:12 pm • Reply

    “…provost, a job that’s all about balancing the University’s budget.”

    Budget-balancing is an important part of the provost’s job, but that’s hardly what the job is “all about”.

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    • another alumnus • June 21, 2011 at 1:26 pm • Reply

      actually, the provost hasn’t been responsible for balancing the budget at this school for a while. That job belongs to Robert Kasdin, and his unwillingness to let it go is the real reason Steele is leaving.

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  5. Concerned Columbia Community • June 22, 2011 at 3:47 pm • Reply

    PrezBo is always looking for tokens to boost his own career. Because Steele,
    a Black man, is leaving, there is good possibility that he will go with Michele Moody-Adams, a Black woman, to fill that spot.

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