The Mesquite Online News - Texas A&M University-San Antonio

Provost to step down, lead new Research and Health Science department

Provost to step down, lead new Research and Health Science department - The Mesquite Online News - Texas A&M University-San Antonio

Mike O'Brien steps down from provost position as he becomes inaugural Senior Vice President for Research and Health Science. Photo retrieved from A&M-San Antonio's official website

University President Cynthia Teniente-Matson announced the current provost, Dr. Mike O’Brien, will move into a new position as the inaugural Senior Vice President for Research and Health Science, in an email addressed to the Jaguar Community, Sept. 14. 

A national search has started as the university looks for a replacement. O’Brien will work both jobs until a new provost is hired.

O’Brien’s new role will include a joint appointment to the A&M Health Science Center, a unit of Texas A&M University, which offers health professions research and education in medical sciences, dentistry, medicine, nursing, public health and pharmacy.


New department to advance A&M-San Antonio’s research profile

Kathryn Funk-Baxter, vice president for business affairs and financial officer, said the new position and new department will advance the university’s research profile. It’s an exciting time to partner with the A&M system on opportunities in health research, she said.

“He (O’Brien) will be the very first senior vice president of research the university has had. This is a brand-new launch moving the university towards our strategic plan of academic excellence,” Funk-Baxter said.

The Office of Research, Graduate Studies and International Affairs programs will realign under the new Research and Health Sciences division.

O’Brien, who joined the university in 2017, will continue to oversee the provost position until a replacement is found while he also transitions into his new position.

“It’s pretty much a full-time effort and it would be tough to do both jobs at the same time,” O’Brien said. “So, I decided, OK this is what I do is research for a living, it’s what drives me; so that is why we created it.”

O’Brien said he feels it would be a good idea to have the new provost start next summer, giving them a chance to leave his or her current position and not leave their former institution without support.

Funk-Baxter said she is unsure how long changing O’Brien’s position has been in the works.

“There was a collaborative conversation that the president had with many stakeholders and the opportunity has presented itself for this university to launch a research agenda and it’s also part of our strategic plan,” Funk-Baxter said.

Funk-Baxter said the new position O’Brien will be taking is just as important as the provost position.

Second in leadership only to the president, the provost is the chief academic officer of A&M- San Antonio. 

“He is not assuming a lower-level position with the university,” Funk-Baxter said. “He’s actually going to be a senior vice president… which is an equal level position as what he previously held.”

In an interview Sept. 20, O’Brien said he feels the university is well-positioned to expand research initiatives and that he looks forward to the health sciences being a larger part of the university’s future.

The provost said the search committee for his replacement will be heavily represented by faculty, staff and will include one undergraduate and graduate student. Further updates on the search are expected this week.


Faculty senate president weighs in on provost’s role

“Any academic thing we do, the provost is the central figure in either giving resources in terms of money, or providing opportunities for time, or providing monies for grants or fellowships,” Faculty Senate President Joseph Simpson said. 

Simpson said, O’Brien has made great progress for the university as provost by overseeing a comprehensive expansion that supported faculty research through funding and career development, which led staff to receiving several National Science Foundation grants. 

“We got money for teaching assistants for the first time this year, we got money for post-doctoral research this year for the first time and we’ve been getting additional help for grant writing,” Simpson said.

Simpson said such initiatives could change based on what the next provost prioritizes and, while future initiatives could be good for faculty, the change creates an environment of uncertainty not knowing how the current structure will be supported.

“It will impact students an enormous amount too – how classes are supported, what kind of classes are going to be offered, what new programs are going to be developed,“ said Simpson.

Simpson said he feels having a strong voice in academic affairs has helped the university attain resources that are good for both faculty and students. He said that kind of solid leadership has allowed faculty to offer more support and pass opportunities on to students.

“For the Faculty Senate, the big question right now is…How is the search committee for the new provost going to represent faculty, and how much voice are we going to get?” Simpson said.


Search for new provost needs faculty involvement, AAUP chapter president says

On Sept. 14, the Association of American University Professors chapter of A&M-San Antonio, a national organization that advocates for faculty working conditions, tweeted that there was a lack of faculty inclusivity in the decision to remove O’Brien from his position. The tweet stated the university should increase faculty involvement when searching for a new provost.

Scott Gage, associate professor of English and president of the AAUP chapter, said shared governance doesn’t only extend to faculty but also students.

“Shared governance is a principle that ensures that universities are enacting those democratic principles and providing a model for democratic civic engagement,” Gage said on Zoom on Sept. 21.

Gage said universities should follow this model of shared governance.

“Whenever faculty and or students are not involved and left out of that conversation then it diminishes the role that we have to play in making sure that our university is operating as it should,” Gage said.

Gage said the provost and president make themselves available to the full senate for questions, but should also extend the conversation to all faculty.

“In terms of those like serious conversations about making decisions, that’s not happening with the full senate,” Gage said. “That’s where we start to have problems of shared governance.”

Gage said Matson has already selected co-chairs for the provost search committee.

“Those chairs should have been chosen through election by faculty,” Gage said. 

To promote shared governance, the majority of the members and chairs on the search committee must be faculty, Gage said. Those on the committee must be picked by faculty too. 

“I know that deans, chairs and senate really are advocating for there to be a strong faculty presence on the search committee,” Gage said.

“Per university rule from College Station, the president needs to seriously consider just the names of those recommended by the search committee,” Gage said.

Gage said if Matson follows best practice, she shouldn’t appoint people over the recommendations of the search committee.

“If we don’t have a say then in who the new provost is, someone could be coming on board who might not be a good fit for our students, who might not be a good fit for the mission of the university,” Gage said.

About the Authors

Daisy Gonzalez-Quezada
Daisy Gonzalez-Quezada is a communication senior at Texas A&M University-San Antonio. She transferred from Allen County Community College in Kansas in 2019. In her spare time, she likes to listen to music and watch either sitcoms or K-dramas. She wants to explore the world as a journalist after graduating.
Denise Treviño
Assistant Editor
Denise Treviño is a senior communications major at Texas A&M University-San Antonio. Born and raised in the Alamo City, she has always aspired to make a difference in her community. She hopes to grow her storytelling skills and delve deeper into the world of multimedia journalism through her current work at university. After graduation, she looks forward to pursuing a career that allows her to tell stories that will inspire as well as entertain. In her free time, you will find her watching and analyzing British detective shows on the couch with her dogs Ransom and Dougie, strumming a ukulele or out on a hike with family and friends.

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