Schuster steps down as the provost

Tech campus was informed on Wednesday morning via email from Institute President G. P. “Bud” Peterson that Gary Schuster, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs, will be stepping down from his post. He has served as provost since Aug. 2006.

“All I ever wanted to be was a scientist…. The clock ticks and I am getting older, and I have always wanted to spend the end of my career teaching research as a faculty member here,” Schuster said.

Peterson’s e-mail also said that a search committee will be appointed in order to find a new provost, and that Schuster intends to remain in the position until a successor has been appointed. As the chief academic officer at Tech, the colleges report directly to the Office of the Provost. The Provost also has oversight of the budgeting process for institute and supervises the hiring and retention of faculty.

“The good thing about an institution like Georgia Tech is that it is not so dependent on the personalities that are in particular places. It is much dependent upon the history, the traditions, the objectives of the institution,” Schuster said.

“As we look ahead to the search for our next provost, we plan to conduct a national search. In doing so, we are signaling that we intend to find the most talented person available in the country. That doesn’t rule out anyone already on campus, it simply sets the bar at the appropriate level for a university with our future potential,” Peterson said.

It is the hope of the administration that the new provost will be in place by July 1, 2010. Schuster will stay on until his successor is in place. The timetable for Strategic Plan has the new plan being rolled out around this time.

“The [Strategic Planning] process will be nearly complete when the new provost arrives and as a result the biggest challenge for this individual will be in the implementation of the plan,” Peterson said.

“We are in the midst of a really important strategic planning exercise…. One of the major challenges for the new provost will be to understand the objectives of the strategic plan, and then to begin to put the mechanisms in place that are going to be necessary to execute the strategic plan,” Schuster said.

Schuster stepping down is one of many changes to the top-level administration at Tech over the past few years. Peterson is still in his first year as Institute President, but in addition to Schuster, former dean of Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts Sue Rosser stepped down in the summer to take over the provost position at the University of California, San Francisco, and Richard DeMillo resigned his position as dean of the College of Computing in June 2008.

“There is a delicate balance between in depth knowledge of an institution and a ‘fresh eyes’ approach. Part of the challenge of leadership is ensuring that one has the appropriate mix and balance of both…. The time in these types of academic leadership positions [Provost] is typically around 5-7 years so these types of changes are not uncommon or unexpected,” Peterson said.

“I expect that who ever is selected… will have some familiarity with Georgia Tech as an institution…. [The most important qualities for the new provost are] integrity and energy,” Schuster said.

Schuster was named the Dean of the College of Sciences in 1994, after serving 20 years on the faculty of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, in the department of chemistry. He was head of the department when he left Illinois. In 2001, he was also appointed to be the Vasser Woolley chair of chemistry and biochemistry.

Schuster was named to the provost position after Jean-Lou Chameau left the post to become the new president at the California Institute of Technology. Schuster was selected over former dean of Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts Sue Rosser and Chair of the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering Eugene C. Gwaltney, Jr. and Bill Wepfer, who at the time was vice provost for distance learning and adult education, who were also finalist for the provost job.

In April 2008, Schuster was named Interim Institute President, succeeding former Institute President G. Wayne Clough. During his tenure as interim president, Schuster led the institute through budgets cuts, which were caused by revenue short falls associated with the financial crisis. Schuster played a crucial role during the transition process last spring, after Peterson became the new Institute President.

“[Becoming interim president] was a very enlightening experience. I got the opportunity to see aspects of the university that you don’t from the academic side,” Schuster said.

“[Schuster] has served the institute very well over the course of the past few years. Especially, last year when went through challenging economic times…. Dr. Schuster was the leader of the institute, and he did a great job transitioning with Dr. Peterson,” said undergraduate student body president Alina Staskevicius.

“Dr. Schuster was called upon to lead Georgia Tech through one of the most difficult economic periods in its history. He did a very good job setting the right priorities and maintaining the moral and confidence of the entire Tech community,” Peterson said.

While the economic challenges that Schuster faced during his tenure greatly shaped his duties as provost, Schuster said he particularly enjoyed working with students and student leadership.

Schuster intends to return to the faculty. Currently, he is listed as a professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

“Dr. Schuster’s desire to return to research and teaching as the culmination of his career is well known,” Peterson said.

“I maintained an active research presence for all the years I was dean and provost…. I am absolutely looking forward to getting back into the classroom…. I would like to teach in the organic chemistry program, and one of the things I would really like to do is teach in the honors program,” Schuster said.