x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Zayed University provost paves the way for early exit

Dr Johnson says he will leave post in May to help the incoming provost maintain stability and exert influence.

Dan Johnson, Provost at Zayed University, Dubai, with an artist's impression of the new Zayed University campus in Abu Dhabi. Dr Johnson will resign in May.
Dan Johnson, Provost at Zayed University, Dubai, with an artist's impression of the new Zayed University campus in Abu Dhabi. Dr Johnson will resign in May.

ABU DHABI // The provost of Zayed University has resigned after less than three years in the job and will step aside sooner than expected.

Dr Dan Johnson, from Ohio, said a month ago that he did not wish to renew his three-year contract when it expired in October.

Yesterday, he sent an e-mail to university staff explaining that he would now be standing down earlier - on May 1 - to ease the transition to his successor.

"The need, at this special time, is for continuity in authority and responsibility in the Office of the Provost," he wrote. "Accordingly, I asked if we might move the date of my departure to May 1, thereby clearing the way to appoint a person who would be here into next year and, perhaps, beyond.

Dr Johnson added that Sheikh Nahyan binMubarak, Minister for Science and Higher Education and the president of Zayed University, and the institution's vice-president, Dr Sulaiman al Jassim, approved his request to leave his post next month.

Thomas Cochran, the university's chief of staff, will take over as interim provost while university management decides on a permanent successor. Mr Cochran said the resignation was not unusual in higher education, especially in the UAE where many academics have families back in their home countries.

"It's not ideal," he said. "Ideally we'd like people to stay for two terms, meaning six years, but that doesn't seem to happen and we have to learn to deal with it accordingly.

"The average tenure of a provost in the US is around five years and for a president it's more like six, which is more similar to the role of a provost in the UAE," he said. "The days of the college provost or president hanging around for 20 years has disappeared."

He admitted the role of provost is a tough one, with a lot of responsibility to many different people. Staff at the university have in recent years complained of low pay and increased workloads.

After a three-year pay freeze, they received a two per cent rise in January, but there were still complaints that the increase did not reflect the extra cost of living or their heavier workloads. They also said class sizes at Zayed University had doubled in the past year.

A decision to open a male wing at the Dubai campus in 2010 also raised concerns among some Emirati families that their daughters would mix with men on campus. The two campuses, however, are physically separate and classes come in at different times. Dr Johnson and his wife will return to America where he will resume his duties as president emeritus and Professor of Public Policy and Economic Development at the University of Toledo.

He was Zayed University's fifth provost; most have stayed for no more than the three-year contract, mostly less, with one staying only six months.

Dr Johnson, however, said he was proud of his achievements since joining the university in October 2008.

"We're not a research university yet but we've strengthened our research orientation considerably," he said.

He said his departure would not be disruptive for staff or students, so long as the transition was done smoothly and transparently.

He leaves having overseen a new Dh4billion campus through to completion. It will open in September.

Dr Mark Drummond, provost of the Higher Colleges of Technology, said the UAE's federal universities were maturing and leadership change tended to be evolutionary.

"Ten years ago the vice-provosts and vice-presidents, reporting to the chancellor, were expatriates," he said.

"Now there are Emiratis with the capacity to do those roles and there are more coming along behind them who will serve in executive posts in the future.

"In the early institution-building years, the tendency is to bring in very senior executives with vast experience - but when you bring in such people, it is typically late in their careers and they cannot be expected to serve long terms."

mswan@thenational.ae