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UC Riverside provost to resign amid widespread faculty concerns over his leadership style

UC Riverside Provost Paul J. D’Anieri announced Friday that he would step down from his administrative post, just days after the faculty said it would meet to consider a vote of no confidence in his leadership.

Some faculty members believed that D’Anieri — who has served as the university’s chief academic officer and executive vice chancellor since 2014 — had mismanaged a major campus growth plan, failed to adequately consult faculty in hiring decisions, brought too many outsiders into key positions and created a climate of mistrust and fear. 

Many of those concerns were aired publicly at a packed Academic Senate meeting two weeks ago. More than 100 faculty members subsequently called for a special meeting to consider a vote of no confidence, which was to have taken place early next year.

Paul J. D’Anieri, UC Riverside provost and executive vice chancellor.
Paul J. D'Anieri, UC Riverside provost and executive vice chancellor.
(ucrtoday.ucr.edu )
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In a message to the faculty and staff Friday, D’Anieri said he recognized wide dissatisfaction with his leadership and significant divides on several issues. “These differences have made it difficult to achieve the level of unity that I believe we need to move forward on our ambitious agenda,” he wrote.

Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox said he accepted D’Anieri’s resignation “with regret” and praised him for putting the interests of the university over his own in stepping down.

“If there’s a hero in this, it’s Paul D’Anieri,” Wilcox said in an interview. “He’s willing to sacrifice his own leadership role on behalf of the institution so this protracted discussion doesn’t dominate.”

Wilcox credited D’Anieri with advancing the campus’ expansion by overseeing the hiring of 180 new faculty members, helping increase diversity and improving student performance. He also played a key role in launching UC Riverside’s $300-million fundraising campaign and developing a new budget process, Wilcox said.

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“Paul brought courageous leadership, deep commitment and innovative thinking to his role as chief academic officer,” Wilcox said. “It’s hard to imagine having achieved so much so quickly without his steady hand.”

D’Anieri will resign as provost next June and return to his faculty appointment in the Department of Political Science and the School of Public Policy. He has focused his research on the relationship between Russia and Ukraine.

“I am intensely proud of the progress we’ve made on our goals of excellence, access, diversity and engagement,” D’Anieri said in his statement.

But D’Anieri has alienated a growing number of faculty members since arriving in Riverside from the University of Florida, where he served as dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Wilcox, who took over as chancellor in 2013 after serving for eight years as provost at Michigan State University, also has drawn some criticism. The two men worked together at the University of Kansas in the early 2000s. 

They heard plenty of criticism of their leadership at the Academic Senate’s recent Campus Town Hall meeting. A chief complaint was that administrators had mismanaged a campus expansion plan, hiring too many faculty members too quickly without first securing their office and lab spaces. Faculty members said that some of their new colleagues have left, while others are still waiting for the work spaces they were promised, which is holding up their research work.

Two years ago, a faculty committee warned Wilcox that the expansion plan’s goal of 300 new faculty members by 2020 was unrealistic because of the space crunch. But the hiring proceeded anyway.

“People arrive here and they’re dead in the water,” said Michael Adams, a professor of entomology and neuroscience at UC Riverside for more than 30 years. “It’s irresponsible to bring people here, assure them these things will be taken care of and not follow through.”

He and others said that a new approach to hiring faculty in “clusters” to build up areas of campus strength, such as new technologies and human health, was theoretically positive. But some faculty members said they were largely excluded from decisions on which clusters to select because of the top-down leadership style.

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Biology professor Kimberly Hammond said in a letter read at the Town Hall meeting that senior administrators were willing to “publicly dismiss and ridicule” faculty concerns and lacked respect for long-standing campus policies and processes.

Even some supporters of Wilcox and D’Anieri said the two men had brought in too many outsiders for key positions such as vice chancellors and deans. 

“There’s a bunch of positives to outside hires, but it would have been good to find some people from inside as well to keep the institutional memory,” said Aaron Seitz, a psychology professor.

Wilcox acknowledged many of the faculty concerns.

“I agree we have moved very far, very fast,” he said in the interview. “That magnitude and speed of change is hard for anyone to adjust to.”

In a letter to faculty last week following the Town Hall meeting, Wilcox said all senior administrators would intensify their communication efforts by holding more meetings. He also said he would place an immediate moratorium on major new initiatives and reorganize oversight of campus renovations and facilities maintenance. Some faculty members complained about the campus’ general filth, including mildew in shower rooms, torn cushions, trash on the floor and rat feces.

“The significant growth that we have seen in the past few years has outpaced our physical infrastructure and our ability to properly maintain it,” Wilcox said in his Dec. 5 letter. “Clearly, we have significant work ahead of us to rectify this situation.”

Wilcox pushed back against other criticisms, however. He said D’Anieri should not be blamed for decisions, such as the cluster hiring, that were made collectively by senior administrators and faculty. He also defended the new faces in his leadership team.

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“Yes, we have a lot of new leadership — it’s the best leadership team I’ve ever seen and one of the best in the nation,” he said. 

The faculty, he said, were not a “unified voice” of discontent.

“I have people stop me every day and thank me for what we have done,” he said.

UC Riverside is one of the most diverse public research universities in the nation, with more than 70% of its 23,000 students Asian, Latino or African American.

teresa.watanabe@latimes.com

Twitter: @teresawatanabe

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UPDATES:

5:10 p.m.: This article was updated to include a statement by D’Anieri. 

This article was originally published at 4:20 p.m.


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