Provost plans to stay through presidential transition

David Lee, the provost and vice president for academic affairs, was named University Historian by President Gary Ransdell. The title will go into effect once Lee steps down from his role as provost. Kathryn Ziesig/HERALD

Monica Kast

Originally intending to only serve as provost for two years, David Lee has announced his intention to continue as provost after President Gary Ransdell retires and to assist the new president.

Lee has been at WKU since 1975, after receiving his Ph.D. from Ohio State University. He began working in the WKU history department as an assistant professor.

From there, Lee went on to serve as dean of the Potter College of Arts and Letters from 1992 until 2015, when Ransdell appointed him as provost. Lee positively changed the faculty’s opinion of the provost position in the first year of his two-year term, according to the 2015-2016 Faculty Work Life Survey.

Now, Lee has announced he’s planning on staying for at least an additional year, while the new president is chosen and begins his or her transition onto campus.

“I don’t want to be presumptuous,” Lee said. “The next president may want to make a change immediately … but I’m available to stay.”

Lee said his decision to stay for at least another year came from realizing the depth of transitions WKU will be going through with a new president.

“The relationship between the provost and the president is a very close one among any college campus, and I don’t think we can do a search for a provost until we actually have the next president in place,” Lee said. “So I’m willing to stay on in the next year while the new president kind of gets plugged into campus … and I hope I can help with that process.”

Lee said it’s hard to predict what the first year of a new president will bring, and he hopes to be able to help them along the way.

“The new president will also be very knowledgeable, but she or he will still be learning a whole lot about the campus and its constituencies,” he said.

Richard Miller, vice provost for policies and personnel, has worked with Lee since coming to WKU 11 years ago. Miller said Lee’s position as dean of the Potter College of Arts & Letters had “clearly positioned him to take on the role of provost.”

“Working with David is an absolute delight,” Miller said.

Miller added he believes Lee “always has the university’s best interests at heart,” and is highly respected on campus.

“I think the university is well, well, positioned to work under his leadership,” Miller said.

In the last year, Lee has changed the faculty opinion of the provost. According to the 2015-2016 Faculty Work Life Survey, faculty felt Lee was more accessible and more routinely consulted with faculty, compared to previous provost Gordon Emslie.

The majority of respondents in the survey also indicated Lee communicated more clearly and completely on university issues, and engaged in open dialogue with the faculty. They also felt he better prioritized budget needs than did Emslie, according to the results of the 2015-2016 Faculty Work Life Survey.

Kate Hudepohl, associate professor of folk studies and anthropology and chair of university senate, said she felt replacing both the university president and provost in the same time period would be difficult, and Lee’s decision to stay will benefit the new president.

“I’m very grateful for his willingness to stay longer,” Hudepohl said.

Hudepohl and Lee work together on the university senate, and while Hudepohl said they don’t always agree on everything, Lee is always willing to listen and respond.

“We don’t always see eye to eye, but I do really respect his opinion,” Hudepohl said.

With the transition of last year behind him, and the transition of next year ahead of him, Lee said he isn’t sure what to expect. He mentioned how closely he works with Ransdell, and that change will come with someone else being in that role.

“It’s really hard to anticipate how things will change,” Lee said. “Gary [Ransdell] is a big personality, and he’s been a defining president. And it will be a transition to someone else being in that role, a big transition with someone else in that role.”

Reporter Monica Kast can be reached at 270-745-6011 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @monicakastwku.