Dean of Arts & Sciences to step down June 30
After more than five years as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S), Karen Vorst has announced she will step down.
The resignation, effective June 30, was first announced Monday, April 18 at a special meeting of A&S faculty chairs. A resignation letter was emailed Thursday to all A&S faculty.
Dr. Gary Ebersole, chair of the Faculty Senate and History Department, said he was surprised by the announcement.
“I didn’t have any prior knowledge of it, except to say when you get a message that calls a special meeting on very short notice and it’s a 15-minute meeting, that’s not a meeting, it’s an announcement,” Ebersole said. “I expected it to be something with her position.”
According to Ebersole, Vorst hasn’t elaborated on why she is resigning.
“She didn’t go into any detail about the reasons,” Ebersole said. “She did say that there were personal considerations.”
Other faculty members speculate the resignation was, in part, due to conflict with Provost Gail Hackett.
Political Science Chair Dr. Harris Mirkin, a member of the U-News Board of Publishers, suspects the decision was influenced by someone other than Vorst.
“She said that the time had come to go, but I wouldn’t say that this was initiated by the dean,” Mirkin said. “I don’t know if there was a big fuss or what, but I think that she was shoved. That would be my guess.”
Mirkin said Vorst and Hackett didn’t always see eye-to-eye.
“I think Karen’s style and Gail Hackett’s style were different,” Mirkin said. “Karen tends to be communal in her decision-making, and Gail is more hierarchical.”
Specifically, Mirkin noted conflict over the college’s budget and enrollment.
“There were areas of conflict about the new budget model and the amounts of money that would come out,” Murkin said. “I don’t know if the provost thought the college was doing enough to grow enrollment.”
Two A&S professors, who did not want their names used for this article, also suggested Vorst may have been nudged to resign.
Mirkin said he didn’t believe Vorst had done anything specific that upset Hackett, but stated Hackett may have wanted changes that Vorst didn’t concur with.
“Vorst doesn’t have an abrasive personality,” Mirkin said. “I don’t think she’s the kind of person who makes enemies. I think she just had a softer leadership style than Hackett. There may be certain things that she wanted to do that the college wasn’t doing. I don’t think Vorst did anything that Hackett didn’t want.”
Ebersole said he wasn’t intimately aware of Vorst’s relationship with Hackett, or any major conflict, for that matter. Vorst and Hackett both serve with Ebersole on the university’s budget committee, which is chaired by the provost.
Ebersole said he didn’t see Hackett’s leadership style as problematic.
“As provost, she is the chief academic officer,” Ebersole said. “If a provost doesn’t have deans on board, her position would be tenuous. No one’s in a comfortable position. Nobody has divine power.”
Differences, Ebersole said, are bound to occur in a large college with a broad discipline focus such as A&S.
“It’s a difficult job, and nobody can please everybody all the time,” Ebersole said. “Conflict with some chairs in and of itself- I wouldn’t call it conflict, but differences- that’s to be expected. I certainly don’t have the sense that there was a move among the faculty.”
If anything, Vorst has improved her standing. Every year, deans are evaluated by the faculty senate using a 16-question online survey, which is open to all tenured and tenured-track faculty of their respective college.
“Dean Vorst had a rough evaluation two years ago,” Ebersole said. “Her evaluation this year, which was just completed two weeks ago, much improved.”
A&S Associate Dean Tom Sandreczki said Vorst was a strong push for A&S with the provost but declined to comment on whether Hackett had anything to do with Vorst’s resignation.
“It’s my personal impression that she’s been a great advocate for the college with the provost,” Sandreczki said, “and the provost gets deans from every academic making requests.”
Those familiar with Vorst said she enjoyed her deanship.
“I think people were really surprised [by the resignation],” Mirkin said. “No one really expected [Vorst to resign]. Everyone’s asking, ‘How come?’ I don’t think there was any indication that she was going to resign. I don’t think there was a precipitating incident.”
Sandreczki said Vorst has been an enthusiastic and effective leader.
“She has had a clear vision of what it takes to help the College progress,” Sandreczki said. “She’s been very organized. She has had a consulate of chairs form separate strategic committees that try to think of major ways to improve the college. I haven’t seen that done before, and that was pretty innovative. She’s tried to be very fair, and tried to have clear policies instead of ad hoc policies.”
Mirkin also praised Vorst’s leadership.
“As far as the college goes and I go, she’s probably the best dean we’ve had,” Mirkin said. “She created a community of chairs. She has probably the best group of associate deans we’ve ever had.”
Ebersole noted that five years is about the average length of a deanship, and that Vorst has stated she will return to teaching economics at UMKC after taking a sabbatical.
“She’ll have a year off, which is good because you don’t want to be here when a new dean is taking over, and then she’ll come back,” Ebersole said. “That’s kind of the model that I appreciate. It means administrators live with the policies they set. It’s easy to make rules if you don’t have to observe them.”
Sandreczki said the provost is in the process of finding an interim dean. Hackett, he said, has met with department chairs and will meet with the associate deans this week.
How the replacement will affect the college remains unclear. Sandreczki said it will depend largely on who is chosen.
In her email resignation announcement, Vorst championed the changes A&S has made.
“For the last five years, the College and the University have faced a series of unprecedented challenges,” Vorst wrote. “Despite sharply reduced budgets, we have been able to expand and improve the quality of our academic offerings, drive enrollments higher and advance our overall academic standing. We are well on our way to achieving our vision of a model urban liberal arts college.”
Hackett and Vorst were unavailable for comment due to busy schedules, although a follow-up with Vorst is planned for the summer issue, which will print May 31 and will be available online at www.unews.com.