Prager may leave College for Wisconsin

by Julia Levy | 10/30/00 6:00am

After less than two years as second-in-charge of Dartmouth, Provost Susan Prager may soon be leaving the College to take up the chancellorship at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Wisconsin's search committee presented Prager as one of three finalists for the position on Friday. In addition to Prager, the committee selected one candidate from the University of Michigan and one current administrator at Wisconsin.

Prager indicated that a move to Wisconsin would be a step up for her career, though she stressed she will continue to work hard for Dartmouth during her remaining time here.

"I feel very privileged to be at Dartmouth and want to emphasize that as long as I'm at Dartmouth I'll be working very hard for Dartmouth's behalf," she said. "That very well may be for years to come, or it may be for a shorter period if this goes forward in a positive way."

Wisconsin's final decision will be announced by the end of November, according to Prager -- approximately a month before current Chancellor David Ward steps down on Jan. 1, 2001.

With two other qualified candidates up for the job, Prager said, "there's certainly not more than a one in three chance" that she will be leaving Dartmouth for Wisconsin.

At this point, College President James Wright said Dartmouth has not initiated a search effort for a new Provost, calling such a move "premature."

"We'll have to let this process work itself out first," he said.

Prager plans to be in Madison Thursday and Friday of this week, when she and the other two candidates will meet with students, faculty and staff. In addition, she will have a "committee interview" and a meeting with the state univeristy system's president Katharine C. Lyall.

Wisconsin's public university system has 13 four-year campuses, and, if appointed, Prager would be the chancellor of the Madison campus -- which is the equivalent to Dartmouth's president.

"Wisconsin, of course, like Dartmouth, is a very high-quality academic institution," Prager said yesterday. "I have been interested for quite a long time in leadership roles in higher education."

In fact, in July, Prager told The Dartmouth that she would be interested in presiding over a university at some point if she is the "right fit for the school" -- one whose agenda parallels her visions.

Prager said the Wisconsin search committee approached her about the position over the summer around the time when she spoke to The Dartmouth about her future ambitions.

During the initial search committee process, the names of candidates were not released -- but certain key administrators, including Wright, were contacted as references.

Wright said the committee asked him "a whole range of questions," and reported that he was very positive in his assessment of Prager.

"We would regret very much losing her, and they would be fortunate to have her," he said.

Dartmouth's Dean of the College James Larimore, who has known Prager since they worked together at Stanford University eight years ago, said the search committee did not contact him.

However, he said he and Prager sat together on a similar presidential search committee at Stanford in 1992, explaining that they "blanketed several campuses with phone calls" asking students, faculty and staff about the "impression and impact" candidates had made, what commitments they held and how they confronted challenges.

Larimore said he cannot predict whether or not he will be contacted by Wisconsin in the coming weeks, but during his conversation with The Dartmouth, he spoke highly of Prager and the University of Wisconsin.

"It's one of the finest universities in the country," Larimore said of Wisconsin. "My own hope is that Susan would remain with the Dartmouth community, but they would be very fortunate to have her."

Larimore said he has worked very closely with Prager, meeting with her and College President James Wright on a regular basis.

"As provost, I've found Susan to be very interested in student life," he said, recalling that when he first came to Dartmouth in 1999, he was "thrilled" because he had been "a big fan of Susan for a while."

Prager's list of responsibilities and roles at Dartmouth is a lengthy one.

Since Prager arrived in Hanover two weeks before the Initiative was released in Feb. 1999, she has been Dartmouth's chief academic officer. In this capacity, she is highly involved in both the day-to-day running and the long-term projects of the College -- making decisions about new building projects, hiring people for key administrative positions, spending time with faculty and other staff, meeting alumni and leading fundraising efforts.

"I think I have brought a perspective from someone who comes from outside to Dartmouth," Prager said, assessing her time at the College.

She said she has made contributions to academic and student residential and social life as well as "our needs for space."

In addition, Prager said she has been involved in "some important recruitments," including that of the new dean of the Tucker Foundation, Stuart Lord, and a new College librarian -- the first in 20 years.

She has also been involved in creating the new Institute for Security and Technology Studies in conjunction with Thayer School Dean Lewis Duncan, as well as developing "an academic plan for the campus" and "participating in the initial stages of fundraising" for Dartmouth's next capital campaign.

"The thing I have appreciated the most about Dartmouth is the high quality of the undergraduate program and the extent to which students are involved in initiating academic programs in conjunction with faculty," Prager said, noting that there was nothing that she disliked about the College in particular.

However, she said Dartmouth has a long ways to go before realizing some of the goals that the Initiative sets out for the College.

"I think that there are a number of attitudes that are still embedded in our social culture here that grew out of the fact that this was previously an all-male institution in the student body," she said, commenting that she does not think Dartmouth is as "hospitable to women as it is to men."

"I've been very happy to be a part of that effort," she said, referring to her work on the Student Life Initiative.

Before coming to Dartmouth, Prager was Dean of the Law School at the University of California at Los Angeles from 1982 to 1998. She was the Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Professor of Law from 1992 through 1998, and from 1979 to 1982, she was UCLA's associate law school dean. In addition, Prager was a Trustee at Stanford, where she did undergraduate and graduate work, from 1976 to 1980 and from 1987 to 1997.

"I think a lot of things in my background have prepared me for this," Prager said, predicting that if the talks this week go well and she is offered the job, she will "be prepared to take the job."

Prager was also a finalist for the chancellorship of University of California at Los Angeles in 1997, when one of her mentors, Charles Young, retired. However, the position eventually went to Albert Carnesale, the then-provost at Harvard.

The other two candidates for the Wisconsin chancellorship are University of Michigan Provost Nancy Cantor and internal candidate John Wiley, who is currently provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the university.