In a move that shocked the U of T community, Provost Shirley Neuman resigned from her post Friday after a tempestuous reign that often involved butting heads with both students and other faculty.
“Provost Neuman has made an outstanding and lasting contribution to the betterment of the university,” said President Robert Birgeneau in a statement Friday.
Neuman, who joined U of T in July, 2002 after a stint at the University of Michigan, will officially step down today. In a statement released Friday through the department of public affairs, Neuman cited “compelling personal reasons” as the impetus for her departure, but many insiders point to Neuman’s head-strong approach to her job as something that alienated her from colleagues, and some even believed she was forced out of office.
In particular, student leaders were irked at Neuman’s apparent dismissal of their input during her white paper “Stepping Up,” an academic plan for U of T.
“I know she put in countless hours on the white papers,” said Adam Watson, a student governor on Governing Council. Watson added that Neuman was upset about the chilly response the papers got, though he could see the students’ gripe. “It didn’t give students a lot to be proud of.”
Others were less diplomatic.
“If she thought that what we said was rubbish, then good riddance to bad rubbish,” said Mohammed Hashim, a former student rep to Governing Council. “What’s the use in having Town Hall meetings when you’re not going to take a single student’s opinion seriously?”
SAC VP University Affairs Howard Tam noted that SAC “wrote several lengthy responses to the white papers,” but Neuman did not reply to any of them.
Student leaders were almost unanimous in their condemnation of Neuman’s attitude toward them. “We just hope the next provost will be more willing to listen to student concerns,” said Tam.
“She talked to us like we were children,” added Hashim.
Most surprising about Neuman’s resignation is the fact that the white papers in question haven’t even gone through yet. The co-ordinating process for future academic plans between the provost and the different academic departments at U of T will not be completed until April 30, long after Neuman is gone.
According to inside sources, Neuman had met the previous week with various deans and principals as well as President Robert Birgeneau about budget matters, and that tensions between Birgeneau and Neuman were high. “They weren’t on the best of terms,” noted Tam.
Neuman is expected to join U of T’s English department as a professor, while Deputy Provost Vivek Goel will take over until Feb. 11, when a Governing Council meeting will hear recommendations for a long-term solution from President Birgeneau.