Harshman optimistic about new role at SLU

Ellen Harshman will be taking over the role of VPAA.   Brianna Radici/ Design Director

Ellen Harshman will be taking over the role of VPAA. Brianna Radici/ Design Director

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From her spacious fourth floor office in DuBourg Hall, the interim vice president for academic affairs has a sweeping view of the Quad and Griesedieck Hall. Come spring, the area will be filled with students enjoying the warming weather; today, though, students simply bustle through on their way to class, bundled up from the harsh cold. In some ways, there’s symmetry in this, for just as the seasons will undergo sweeping changes in the next few months, so, too, will Saint Louis University. And in many ways, the face of this change will be Ellen Harshman.

Ellen Harshman will be taking over the role of VPAA.   Brianna Radici/ Design Director

Ellen Harshman will be taking over the role of VPAA. Brianna Radici/ Design Director

Harshman has served SLU in several leadership roles since 1972, including dean of the John Cook School of Business, director of the Career Planning and Placement Center, and senior vice provost and interim chief information officer. Now, she replaces Manoj Patankar, who submitted his resignation to  Lawrence Biondi, S.J., president of SLU. The Board of Trustees tapped Harshman to serve in an interim role, as announced by Thomas Brouster, chairman of the Board, on Dec. 15.

Harshman will serve in the role while a search for a replacement is considered and conducted. She will continue to serve as dean of the business school, overseeing external relations and faculty evaluations after the spring semester concludes. Mark Arnold, associate dean of the school, will handle day-to-day operations.

“It’s been amazing for me to have had so many different kinds of experiences. It’s a snowball, because you never leave one, you just roll it up into the next one,” Harshman said. “I appreciate those perspectives, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the opportunity to learn and have an amazing career in higher education that never required me to leave St. Louis, to leave SLU.”

Harshman’s official start date was Jan. 14, though she was out of St. Louis. Already, though, she has met with the president’s Coordinating Council and the leadership of the Faculty Senate. She said her primary focus was to “meet with people to see what they need.” She has not been given a clear time frame on how long she will be away from the business school, but indicated that she expects clarity after the Board meets again in February. Harshman stated she will not return to the business school if she is asked to remain as VPAA for a longer period.

Harshman’s appointment comes in the wake of complaints from SLU faculty over issues of shared governance, which led to a vote of no-confidence in Pantankar. She has been widely acclaimed by the SLU community, including Dr. Ellen Carnaghan, chair of the political science department and a critic of both Biondi and Pantakar.

“[Ellen] Harshman was an outstanding choice for the vice president of academic affairs position,” Carnaghan said. “Her competence and professionalism have earned considerable respect from faculty in her previous leadership positions, and she has demonstrated strong support for SLU’s Catholic, Jesuit mission. Particularly important in present circumstances, she has a proven record of collaborative leadership and respect for shared governance.”

Carnaghan said, however, the board still left the vote of no-confidence on Biondi unanswered, and she questioned how much authority Harshman would be given in her new role.

“What is in question is not Dr. Harshman’s intentions, but whether she will have the freedom and authority to pursue them.”

Student Government Association President Blake Exline also expressed hope for Harshman in her new role.

“Through my experience working with Dr. Harshman in her role as dean of [the business school], I have been nothing but impressed,” Exline said. “I expect she will valiantly and effectively serve SLU … and will only provide room for discussion, collaboration and compromise on the behalf of SLU students.”

Harshman stated she is aware of the concerns over communication and is personally concerned over the damage the recent votes of no-confidence have done to SLU’s image, both in St. Louis and in larger audiences. She said she held no qualms about the challenges that lay on her desk.

“I think it will be an immense challenge,” Harshman said. “We are in a very interesting time. I have had a lot of experience working with [Biondi] in different roles, but never in this kind of role. I think we’ll have to get to know each other with these hats on. But, I’m one that, first thing in the morning, I think, ‘what can I do to make today better than yesterday?’

“We have a great story to tell, and everybody has the same notion, but there are different ideas how to get there. I don’t know that anybody is wrong; it’s about how do we put our resources together and keep moving down the same path.”

But, Harshman stressed, all parties must be willing to listen, and to learn, from one another.

“That’s what I’m hoping for and expecting. And, I don’t think I could find anybody that would say that can’t happen. We just have to believe it, and work it, and make it happen.”