Provost Pat Farrell announced his plans earlier this semester to step down to take a one-year sabbatical, which will last from June 30, 2020, to July 1, 2021.
Farrell said he has no plans for his sabbatical as of now, however, he said taking this on at this point in his career is the right step for both him and the university.
“First of all, it gets me out of here,” he said. “It’s kind of useful for whoever takes over this job to not have the predecessor looking over the shoulder, so it’s good if you’re not around for a while. Secondly, it’s a good time to take in some sense of ‘where do you think you still have an opportunity to contribute,’ whether it’s to Lehigh or higher education as a whole, and that may require some learning and some things to do that you didn’t have time when you were provost.”
The search for the next provost has not yet begun, but is expected to commence in late summer of this year, Farrell said. A small search committee will be formed by President John Simon.
Farrell said sometimes the potential successor that a committee is most interested in is not out looking for a job and is already successful in his or her current career.
“It’s not like they’re out hunting,” Farrell said. “We might have to convince them to come to Lehigh and that it would be a really good move for them, that they’ll find it exciting and interesting and challenging. It’s not simply applications filtering through. Some of the best candidates won’t apply — we just have to encourage them.”
Cameron Wesson, the interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said Farrell has balanced tradition well during his time as provost, even as Farrell pushes to make change.
“Tradition is something we pride ourselves on, but it also can impede you from making progress in a number of areas,” he said. “He and President Simon have really worked together on the Path to Prominence, the new College of Health, with all the construction that you see around — all with keeping Lehigh’s traditional strengths but also trying to add to them in some creative ways.”
Wesson said Farrell has made a visible impact through his changes on Lehigh’s campus in terms of projects, such as the Mountaintop renovations and the College of Health.
Wesson acknowledged that Lehigh will be a better, stronger institution as a result of the change Farrell has pushed for, even if “we can’t appreciate that right now because we’re in the middle of it.” Nonetheless, Wesson said, the university will look back and see Farrell’s time at Lehigh as one of the most successful provosts in university history.
Georgette Phillips, the dean of the College of Business and Economics, stressed that Farrell’s fairness and honesty were qualities that stood out to her while working with him.
“I always say about Pat that he might not have always told me ‘yes’, but when he said ‘no’, I knew that there was a fair and honest communicated reason as to why,” she said. “You can’t expect a ‘yes’ to everything you want, but you can expect that when it’s a ‘no’, it’s coming from a place of what is best for the university.”
Farrell said he hopes that the incoming provost will make changes during his or her year in the role, and he sees it as one of the benefits of a new person coming into the job.
“I hope that anyone coming into this job will also have some vision of their own,” he said. “I think there’s some opportunities that we are not currently taking advantage of, and that’s why it’s kind of advantageous to get different people because they will see different things. Whoever they are, they will have different views about some things that I might have thought were really important, and they might not think that as much and the converse.”