UW's Phyllis Wise leaving for University of Illinois
University of Washington Provost Phyllis Wise is leaving to become a vice president of the University of Illinois and chancellor of the Urbana-Champaign campus.
Seattle Times higher education reporter
Concerned that being a candidate for the University of Washington presidency while also serving as its interim president might discourage top candidates from applying, Provost Phyllis Wise took herself out of the running, UW regents Chair Herb Simon said.
But her deft handling of the role made Wise herself an attractive candidate to other universities — including the University of Illinois, which began courting her early this year.
On Wednesday morning, Wise — who had gone back to her job as UW provost after the university selected a new president — said yes to Illinois. On Oct. 1, she will become chancellor of the flagship campus in Urbana-Champaign and a vice president of the University of Illinois system.
"I'm thrilled and honored to be asked to do this," Wise said. Still, she said it would be hard to say goodbye to the UW: "This is certainly the best institution I've ever left."
Wise, 66, was the first woman and first Asian American to be president of the UW, and she is considered a leading researcher in women's health and biology. She said she discovered that running a university — even during perhaps the biggest budget crisis the state has ever faced — was a "wonderful experience."
She was a regular visitor to Olympia to lobby for the university and held a number of town-hall-style meetings at the UW to discuss the budget crisis with students and faculty.
The provost, the second-highest position at the university, serves as the chief academic officer and oversees the school's budget. All the university's deans report to the provost, and he or she approves faculty hires and tenure. Typically, the provost works closely with the president to shape a vision for the university, then works to execute that vision, said new President Michael Young.
Young said he was sorry to lose Wise because "you always like to keep your really great people." He said that he expects to set up a search committee and do a national search for a provost, but that the appointment would be his alone to decide.
During her tenure, Wise made a point of describing herself as the UW president for an interim period, as opposed to the interim president, and "she took it on full-bolt, and with all the risks included," Simon said. "She worked as if she were the permanent president, as opposed to being there to watch the house."
She is well known for sending emails in the wee hours of the morning, a sign that she never stopped working and thinking about university business, Simon said.
"She really found she enjoyed the role of chief executive of an institution, and she blossomed in it," said J.W. Harrington, a geography professor who served as president of the Faculty Senate during the past school year.
"Less ego" than Emmert
Harrington said Wise's style was different from that of her predecessor, Mark Emmert, who now heads the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Legislators seemed to like the change: "Phyllis evinces less ego," he said. "She's very collaborative — she has a very different personal style."
Wise served as interim president for about one year, from July 2010 to July 2011, then became provost again after the university chose Young, formerly the president of the University of Utah, to succeed Emmert.
It's not unusual for new university presidents to switch provosts and other high-level administrators when they begin their tenure. Wise was picked to be provost by Emmert in summer 2005, a year after he started the job, as part of a larger management shake-up. But Wise said Young had said nothing to indicate she might be replaced.
"My sense was we would make a great team," she said. "He had not indicated at all I should be worried."
During her tenure, she helped lobby successfully for a bill that allowed universities to set their own tuition, a power the UW argued was necessary to keep the school from slipping in quality. The UW's state funding has been cut by 50 percent during the past three years.
Earlier this year, the UW approved a 20 percent increase in tuition for the coming school year. But the university also has plowed a lot of the increase into student scholarships; Wise said a few students have been so surprised by the amount of scholarship money they've received that they've called up the financial-aid office and asked, "Are you joking?"
Wise's new institution faces many of the same issues that the UW, and most state universities around the country, are facing, said Tom Hardy, executive director of university relations for the University of Illinois: declining state support coupled with rising tuition rates to make up for the difference. In Illinois, the problem is exacerbated because the state has dragged its feet in paying the university its budgeted appropriations, Hardy said.
Wise was seen as a strong candidate because she has extensive administrative experience at a similar-size state university, as well as her background as a researcher, Hardy said. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine and a fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
She will make $500,000 a year, plus $100,000 a year in deferred compensation if she stays for five years. As provost, she makes $421,900, which includes a $12,000 travel and transportation allowance.
In a prepared statement, Michael J. Hogan, president of the University of Illinois system, praised Wise for her leadership record and her scientific achievements.
"Dr. Wise has the 'full package,' " Hogan said. "She is a proven scholar, with a deep commitment to public higher education, and has an exceptional reputation as a leader at some of the nation's top universities. I couldn't be more pleased to have her joining our distinguished leadership team."
Wise will start work Oct. 1, pending approval by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees at its September meeting.
Wise served as dean of biological sciences at the University of California, Davis, before being hired by Emmert.
Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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