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CARBONDALE — Four finalists — including one veteran Southern Illinois University administrator — are in the running to serve as SIU Carbondale’s new chancellor.

All four are provosts at large research universities who are billed as having extensive experience building enrollment and strengthening retention.

The finalists are:

• Pam Benoit, executive vice president and provost of Ohio University

• Susan M. Ford, SIU’s acting provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs

• Sabah U. Randhawa, provost and executive vice president of Oregon State University

• Lawrence Schovanec, provost and senior vice president at Texas Tech University

The new chancellor will replace Interim Chancellor Paul Sarvela, who died in November.

An 18-member selection committee accepted applications for the position earlier this semester. Carl Flowers, director of SIU’s Rehabilitation Institute and a committee co-chairman, said the university received about 30 applications.

Nine semifinalists were interviewed earlier this month, and committee members spent the past few days finalizing the short list of finalists with the help of President Randy Dunn.

“I think we chose the best four candidates who are best prepared to lead us into the future,” Flowers said. “We were looking for someone who was forward-thinking, who was a visionary, who understood that these are tough times in higher education and was prepared to lead us in a positive manner.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner has proposed slashing 31.5 percent of public universities’ funding next year. That would strip the Carbondale campus of $32.7 million in state funds next year, reducing the university’s budget to levels unseen since the 1985-86 school year.

Flowers said committee members also looked for candidates who had experience bringing enrollment numbers up.

Enrollment at SIU only recently has started to rebound after trending downward for nine straight years. Between fall 2004 and fall 2013, enrollment plummeted 16.4 percent, from 21,587 to 17,964.

In fall 2014, the student population jumped by 25 students 17,989. At the time, Sarvela hailed the uptick as “reason to celebrate,” and university administrators credited the reversal, in part, to outreach efforts and a 25 percent jump in international-student enrollment.

The four finalists will visit the campus over the next few weeks to interview with administrators, meet with university groups and participate in public forums.

Dunn then will recommend a final candidate to SIU’s Board of Trustees. He has said he hopes the new chancellor will start by the beginning of fall semester.

Here’s a closer look at the finalists:

Benoit: Enrollment uptick

Since 2009, when Benoit signed on at Ohio University as provost, enrollment at the Athens-based research university has jumped nearly 30 percent, from 30,000 to 38,818.

In her application materials, Benoit described herself as a first-generation college student with a commitment to public higher education and a deep understanding of enrollment and diversity.

“Diversity, in its many forms, enriches the educational experience by creating intellectually rich environments and creative and complex workplaces,” she wrote in her cover letter. “I have demonstrated a long-standing commitment to diversity.”

Before taking her current post, Benoit served in a number of administrative roles at the University of Missouri, including vice provost of advanced studies and dean of the graduate school.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in speech and English from Ball State University in 1975, a master’s degree in communication from Central Michigan University in 1976 and a Ph.D. in communication from Wayne State University in 1979.

Benoit did not immediately return a call for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Ford: ‘We’re a Saluki family’

A 36-year SIU veteran, Ford joined the Saluki team as a visiting instructor in 1979 and never left.

Her two children graduated from SIU, and her husband not only worked at the university but also received both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from SIU.

“We’re a Saluki family,” she said. “I love the institution. It’s been very good to me, very good to my family, and I’m just glad to be able to give back to the institution in whatever way that is in the future.”

Before she was asked to stay on in her current position, Ford had plans to retire. She said she decided to put those plans on hold again when she was asked to apply for chancellor.

“I have some thoughts about how we might move forward,” she said. “I thought perhaps I could contribute and move us into the future through the chancellor’s role.”

As chancellor, Ford said she would champion SIU’s strong relationship to Southern Illinois.

“Because I’ve been here for so long, I’ve seen how the community and the stores and businesses in the area respond dramatically to the ebb and flow of enrollment numbers,” she said. “When SIU is strong, the community is thriving. When SIU is struggling, the community is struggling. It’s a critical relationship.”

Ford received a Bachelor’s degree in biology from Roanoke College in 1974 and Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Pittsburgh in 1980.

Randhawa: Growth Despite Declining Support

Randhawa joined Oregon State in 1993 and served in several administrative roles before taking his current post in 2005.

As provost and executive vice president, Randhawa worked to create interdisciplinary academic programs and an online education program that ranks as one of the top five in the country, according to his resume.

In his cover letter, Randhawa emphasized the “significant transformational change” he’s been able to achieve at Oregon State.

“Our transformation has positioned the university on a sustainable growth trajectory in an environment where state support for postsecondary education in Oregon has continuously declined for decades,” he wrote.

In 1976, Randhawa received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from University of Engineering & Technology in Pakistan. He has received two post-graduate degrees in industrial engineering – a master’s degree from Oregon State in 1980 and a Ph.D. from Arizona State University in 1983.

Randhawa did not immediately return a call for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Schovanec: Shared Values

A 33-year veteran of Texas Tech, Schovanec said the more he learned about SIU, the more interested he became in the chancellor position.

“Southern Illinois University and Texas Tech, they share a lot of values,” he said. “The have certain institutional similarities.”

Both are nationally ranked research universities that emphasize engagement with the regions they call home, he said. And both have diverse student populations.

“It’s very important to Tech that we grow our diversity and be inclusive, and it’s obvious that that’s a value that’s important to SIU,” he said. “There were just a lot of attributes of SIU that I identified with.

As provost, Schovanec said he has focused on strengthening retention and graduation rates, growing enrollment and building online learning programs.

Schovanec earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Phillips University in 1975, a master’s degree in mathematics from Texas A&M University in 1977 and a Ph.D. in mathematics from Indiana University in 1982.

sarah.graham@thesouthern.com

618-351-5076

@SHalaszGraham​

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Sarah Graham is a reporter for The Southern Illinoisan covering higher education and Union County.

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