Joseph Helble appointed as new provost

by Sunny Drescher | 5/24/18 2:50am

Thayer School of Engineering dean Joseph Helble has been appointed as Dartmouth’s next provost by College President Phil Hanlon. In October, Helble will replace interim provost David Kotz ’86, who assumed his interim position when former provost Carolyn Dever decided to return to teaching and research in October 2017.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” Helble said. “I’ll be in a position where I can see the entire landscape and have the opportunity to engage with the whole of Dartmouth in different and substantive ways, which is one of the most exciting aspects of this position.”

Professor of anthropology Deborah Nichols said that Helble was selected through a national search with the help of an advisory committee comprised of students, faculty and staff.

Nichols championed Helble’s “transparent style of leadership and commitment both to liberal arts and to the graduate and professional schools.”

Given that it was a national search, the committee considered internal and external candidates with the help of executive search firm Witt/Kieffer before presenting President Hanlon with a list of finalists, according to Nichols, who chaired the advisory committee. She said that Helble’s “learning curve” will not be as steep as it would be for a newcomer to the College because he has had the experience of leading Thayer and working with other College leadership for the past 13 years.

Executive vice president Rick Mills said that Helble’s experience at Thayer has the potential for the College to get “the best of both worlds” because Helble is both familiar with Dartmouth and can also bring new a perspective.

“Because [Helble] sat at his own school that ran with its own operations and culture, he can bring those to this new role, and they’ll be a little different than just somebody who’s inside the center of Dartmouth,” Mills said.

According to Mills, it makes sense for the provost to have an academic “be the final deciding authority on budgets” because many of the budget decisions have to do with teaching or research. Mills said that he, as executive vice president, also works with the provost to go over any operational issues at the College.

In addition to working on the College’s budget and operational issues, Helble will work with academic deans to oversee the College’s constituent schools and provide oversight of student-related programs, such as enrollment management and financial aid.

Board of Trustees chair Laurel Richie ’81 said that one of the reasons why Helble stood out was how his leadership and vision for Thayer really transformed the school and its interaction with the College.

“The fact that Thayer is the only engineering school in the country to have more than 50 percent of its graduating class be women spoke to the way in which [Helble] champions diversity, equity and inclusivity,” Richie said.

Richie added that the connection between Thayer and the rest of the undergraduate institution will help Helble bring great insight to his new position. All bachelor of engineering candidates are required to earn an undergraduate degree in the liberal arts, and 70 percent of undergraduates take at least one course in engineering or computer science, which Richie said helped foster interactions between Thayer and the larger Dartmouth community.

Helble said that one of the primary reasons he was interested in the position is that the provost has the opportunity to interact with all facets of campus and continue to pursue interdisciplinary programs, which he said make Dartmouth unique.

When he first started at Thayer, Helble said he would walk around and talk to people within the engineering community to understand what they thought made Thayer special in hopes of “[building] on the points of distinction in the integrated, interdisciplinary school of engineering.” He said that he is planning on doing the same thing when he assumes the provost position to connect with the greater Dartmouth community and learn about what faculty, students and staff think of Dartmouth and where it can improve.

“Even though I’ve been here for 13 years, this is a tremendous opportunity for me to learn, and I’m interested in helping us find ways to build on the things that truly make Dartmouth distinct,” Helble said.

Mills said that Helble brings a valuable skillset to this new position in terms of critical thinking and problem solving because of his training as an engineer.

“[Helble] is going to bring to the role a certain structure to thinking about problems, working on solutions to problems, testing, measuring, and implementing in a way that may be really helpful,” Mills said.

“[Being the provost] really is being the chief academic officer, the person who’s in a position most directly to help support the goals and aspirations of our faculty, staff and students,” Helble said. “Who wouldn’t find that exciting?”

In addition to Nichols, the advisory committee included engineering professor Margaret Ackerman; Tuck student Eunice Bii Tu’18; history professor Colin Calloway; religion professor Paul Christesen; vice provost for enrollment and dean of admissions and financial aid Lee Coffin; Geisel professor Deborah Hogan; Tuck associate dean Punam Keller; physics and astronomy professor James LaBelle; undergraduate Jay Raju ’18; trustee chair Laurel Richie ’81; and chief financial officer Michael Wagner.

Richie said that the mix of expertise and experiences that members brought to the committee was valuable for the search process, and she said that she said she was impressed that the committee was “united in what [they] were looking for and the opportunities that [they] saw for the next provost.”

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