By STEVEN NALLEY
Beginning in late February, Mississippi State University provost Jerry Gilbert will pull double duty as interim dean of MSU’s Bagley College of Engineering.
During this interim, MSU will search nationwide to replace former Bagley College dean Sarah Rajala, selected as dean of Iowa State University’s College of Engineering in December. Don Zant, MSU vice president for budget and planning, is leading a 16-member university search committee working in conjunction with Parker Executive Search in Atlanta to find Rajala’s successor. Gilbert said in a press release he is confident the search will be quick, and he will personally ensure a smooth transition.
“Don has excellent experience with searches and brings strong institutional commitment to the search process,” Gilbert said in the release. “I am confident that the stellar reputation of the Bagley College of Engineering will attract a large number of highly qualified candidates and that we can move quickly in identifying an outstanding leader for the college.”
MSU University Relations director Sid Salter said searches like this typically take four to six months, but Gilbert believes Parker Executive Search’s assistance can accelerate the process to 3.5 months.
“Dr. Gilbert has said that MSU is looking for a visionary leader who can build on the successes of the past and take the College of Engineering to new levels of excellence,” Salter said. “Having a search firm assist in the search will help develop a stronger pool of candidates and will help us move faster in the process. Parker Executive Search ... (is) confident that we can stay on task with the goal of having candidates identified and interviewed by mid-May.”
Previously in his career, Gilbert served for eight years as MSU’s agricultural and biological engineering department head, and he founded MSU’s graduate program in biomedical engineering. Salter said these and other experiences have equipped Gilbert well to step into the interim dean role.
“Dr. Gilbert has an engineering degree from MSU and one from Duke University,” Salter said. “His involvement in engineering education for over 30 years, including being an academic department head at MSU for eight years, gives him great insight into the unique challenges associated with a college of engineering.”
Gilbert will not be handling his dual roles alone, Salter said. Engineering associate deans Lori Bruce and Royce Bowden will assist Gilbert with his duties as interim engineering dean, he said, and associate vice presidents Peter Ryan and Julia Hodges will assist with his duties as MSU provost and executive vice president.
Gilbert said a colleague from another university has shown him that a provost can handle a second job. Before being named the University of Alabama’s first female president in November, Judy Bonner served as both interim president and provost at Alabama for six months, Gilbert said.
“I know it’s possible to do the provost’s job and to do another job at the same time, particularly if you have people that are working in the offices that can help you, and they’ve all agreed to ... support me and help me,” Gilbert said. “We want to go through the interim process very quickly and identify a dean that will keep the playing field level and open for a lot of candidates from the outside, so ... they don’t think that there’s any preconceived ideas about who’s going to be the next dean.”
Gilbert said the dual duties also give him a chance to communicate closely with Bagley College faculty during the search for a new dean.
“I think it’s really going to be to their benefit to have me as the interim for a short period of time,” Gilbert said. “The shorter the period of time, the better.”