In hiring the University of New Hampshire’s (UNH) next Senior Vice Provost for Student Life, Provost Wayne Jones believes the ideal candidate should “have experiences that go across the student affairs enterprise” and a “commitment to diversity and supporting all communities across the campus.” 

Despite the current, unforeseen limitations of the COVID-19 pandemic on university operations, the nationwide search to replace current Senior Vice Provost for Student Life and Dean of Students, John T. Kirkpatrick, is underway. Kirkpatrick, who has served in the position since December 2015, is retiring at year’s end after nearly forty years at the university. 

 “I have had a long run at UNH and each day has been a privilege. I tell people often that I have one of the best jobs one could have…working with talented young people, year in and year out. Each one of us has a date stamp, however, and mine has arrived,” said Kirkpatrick. “I leave knowing that UNH and its students have a very bright future indeed, even in the current challenges. I am confident that the search for my successor will produce a wonderful steward of Student Life and that the community will help them to get settled on campus and to plan for the years to come.” 

Jones began work on succession planning before the start of the spring semester, forming a search committee team that will interview applicants and finalize a list of candidates for the position. To start, Jones selected UNH’s College of Health and Human Services Dean Michael Ferrara to serve as the committee’s chairperson before rounding out the rest of the group. 

“I chose Mike… I wanted to have someone that had that dean’s level of experience. I wanted someone who would sit with this leader on the Provost council, and I was looking for someone who had a breadth of experience that touched on different aspects of student life,” Jones said. “Mike had a lot of experiences that made him rise quickly in my mind’s eye as the lead to be the chair.” 

Ferrara, whose career accolades in athletic training, medical research and education have earned him international acclaim, is facing a self-described “robust” applicant pool for the position. 

“We are looking for a person with direct experience leading student life who is a leader, has a holistic approach to enhancing and supporting success and well-being in the life of students, a commitment to diversity and strategies to advance inclusiveness, a vision for the future of student life at UNH and proven ability to connect multiple, diverse organizations within student life and within academic and non-academic groups,” he said. 

Ferrara leads a committee that represents a wide array of university departments and perspectives. Additional committee members include: Director of Residential Life Ruth Abelmann, Student Body Vice President Kelsey Crowley, Clinical Professor of Psychology Joan Glutting, Executive Director for Student Engagement and Development Stacey Hall, Community Standards Administrative Coordinator Sarah Kiely, Assistant Dean of the Graduate School Dovev Levine, College of Engineering and Physical Sciences (CEPS) Associate Dean Sharon McCrone, Carsey School of Public Policy fellow and project manager of New Hampshire Listens Andres Mejia, Human Development and Family Studies Associate Professor Erin Sharp and Career and Professional Success Associate Vice Provost Trudy Van Zee. 

According to Jones, the search process is currently still in the early stages, as a recruiter is putting together a list of applicants that the search committee will interview in the coming months. Those interviews, due to widespread social distancing guidelines relative to COVID-19, will be conducted by the search committee using Zoom video conferencing. After those “semifinalist” interviews, the committee will present a “down-selected” list, according to Jones, who is tasked with choosing Kirkpatrick’s replacement out of that smaller groups. 

At this point, Jones and his committee are uncertain about whether or not that group of finalists will be able to travel to Durham for on-campus interviews due to COVID-19-induced travel restrictions and social distancing guidelines.  

“My core belief is that I would like the candidates to come to campus. I don’t know how that’s going to work and Dean Kirkpatrick, who has done such a wonderful job, is retiring at the end of June, so we’re trying to navigate that,” he said. 

Battling such hindrances adds to Jones’ worry that, for the committee and himself to appoint the ideal replacement for Kirkpatrick’s role, the process is not “a sprint” but “a marathon” instead. However, he and Ferrara share similar views that the search process will continue on for however long until that perfect fit has been found.  

“What I do know is that when we get to that stage when I can see the pool and I can see the finalists, if I don’t believe that we have the breath and the strength that I want to have, then the search will keep going. We won’t finish until we find the right candidate. If worst case is we won’t get someone in here until the fall or January 1, then I will work on an interim solution until then. Our top priority is getting a strong candidate in this position- period,” Jones said.