In a faculty meeting on Sept. 21, Ken Peterson announced his plan to transition from his role as Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost to his previous role as Professor of Economics, effective Jun. 30, 2022. After over 30 years at Furman, this decision to step down from his role as the university’s chief academic officer came as a surprise to many faculty members.
Peterson joined the economics faculty at Furman in 1990, later serving as the inaugural chair of the Department of Economics from 2004 to 2016. In 2017, Peterson was named Dean of Faculty. Then, in 2019, President Elizabeth Davis named Peterson as Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost. Over the course of his time as an administrator, Peterson contributed to the development of The Furman Advantage and the university’s response to COVID-19.
In an email to the faculty after the Sept. 21 meeting, Peterson shared that it has been “an extraordinary privilege” to be a part of these University advances and response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Peterson further shared his gratitude to the faculty and “for the opportunity I have had to serve you in the administration” as well as the difficult nature of this decision. “I have spent nearly my whole career working to help Furman reach its full potential and will continue to do so again as a faculty member,” Peterson said.
He also shared his intent to assist Davis and the Senior Administrative Team in creating a transition plan to fill the roles of Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost.
Peterson’s announcement came one month after President Davis announced that Michael Jennings is “stepping away” from his role as Chief Diversity Officer (CDO). The announcement was made on Aug. 19. In the email, Davis thanked Jennings for his work around diversity, equity and inclusion at Furman. Additionally, she shared recent successes that have occurred during Jennings’ tenure, such as the creation of the Joseph Vaughn Plaza, Strategic Diversity Plan.
Jennings was quoted in the email, expressing gratitude for serving as Furman’s inaugural CDO and the opportunity to work with members of our community to make Furman more diverse and inclusive. “While we have had a great deal of success,” Jennings explained, “there is still much work to do and I am confident that Furman is on the right track for greater success.”
Davis also indicated her intent to name an interim CDO after reviewing the position and shared that Jennings will serve in an advisory role as a transition plan is developed.
In an interview with The Paladin, Davis elaborated on this transition. She shared that Jennings is currently serving as her advisor but will assume faculty responsibilities next semester as a Professor of Education.
In regard to the timing of the announcement, Davis explained that this transition was not planned when Jennings was hired four years ago. “In higher ed, these things just happen. Sometimes timing is controlled, sometimes it is not,” she said.
Davis did not explain the specifics of Jennings’ transition. “The thing is with personnel decisions,” Davis explained, “it’s really difficult to talk about because you’re starting to get into the personal life of other people.”
Looking towards filling the CDO position, Davis emphasized the importance of reevaluating Furman’s institutional approach to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Davis said that she and Jennings have been conversing with a consultant to evaluate our DEI practices. “Now that we’re four years into having a more-structured approach,” Davis elaborated, “it’s not a terrible time to stop and say is this the right one or do we need to stop and think of something else.” Davis emphasized the importance of bringing in someone to “look at things with fresh eyes.”
The plan to bring in a consultant to conduct a climate survey began last semester, prior to the CDO vacancy. “We aren’t slowing down with Jennings’ departure,” shared Davis. “it just has me a bit closer to the boots on the ground than I might have been otherwise.”
In terms of appointing a new CDO, Davis said that her first priority is ensuring that our DEI structure is working for our institutional direction. Furman operates with a distributive model of DEI, in which all of the Vice Presidents (VP) on campus report directly to the President. Under this model, Davis described that the CDO acts as a strategist, while “all of the VPs are responsible for their diversity, equity and inclusion plans of their units.”
Thus, filling the role of CDO depends on information collected by a consultant in the future, in addition to feedback from members of the community. “The plan is to be sure that the structure is working appropriately, that people have the resources they need, before we rush into anything else,” Davis elaborated.
Davis shared that the performance of a CDO is evaluated based on the goals of the Strategic Diversity Plan. Similarly, VPs are evaluated based on these criteria specific to their area at Furman. “That’s the beauty of the distributive model – nobody can say it’s not my job, it’s everybody’s job,” Davis concluded.
Following the consultant’s assessment of Furman’s DEI practices, Davis will communicate the plan for filling the vacant CDO position. The transition plan for the Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost has not yet been announced.