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CU Boulder professor, research director to become provost at Colorado College

March 8, 2018 Updated: March 8, 2018 at 5:01 pm
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Alan R. Townsend. Courtesy photo

Colorado College hasn't had a provost, a high-ranking administrator who works closely with the president, deans, department heads and others to shape educational programming, since 1975.

Campus and academic growth have necessitated a resurrection of the post, according to CC President Jill Tiefenthaler, who this week announced the hiring of Alan R. Townsend to fill the job.

Townsend, an ecosystem ecologist, is director of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and an environmental studies professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Townsend, 52, spent 17 years on the faculty at CU Boulder before becoming dean of the Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment in 2014.

He returned to CU Boulder early in 2017.

The opportunity to work at CC "came a little out of the blue," Townsend said Wednesday.

He wasn't actively looking for a new job when a search firm, Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates, which also was involved in recruiting Tiefenthaler in 2011, contacted him to see if he was interested in being considered.

CC had been on his radar for years.

"It has a deserved reputation for standing out as an innovative place, which is intriguing to me," Townsend said.

CC graduates he had taught in graduate science programs at CU Boulder "were a little different," Townsend said. "Remarkably independent, driven, socially conscious students who impressed me."

Townsend was selected out of a field of 175 initial candidates, said CC spokeswoman Leslie Weddell.

Townsend starts June 1, becoming CC's second-ranking officer. He will serve on the president's Cabinet, take a key role in the annual budget process and implement an updated strategic plan.

He also will teach environmental science at CC, a private liberal arts college of about 2,000 students north of downtown Colorado Springs.

Tiefenthaler mentioned the college's recent acquisition of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, its renovated and expanded Tutt Library and a new campus initiative focusing on innovation as driving the need for a provost, also known as a chief academic officer.

"Moving to a provost model provides additional leadership and vision for those areas and the entire institution," Tiefenthaler said in an email, "while allowing our dean of faculty to fully focus on supporting the faculty and their work."

Townsend said while it's premature for him to set specific goals, he's looking forward to helping "advance the ways in which a strong liberal arts education is best poised to help produce students to address the challenges we're facing."

"To see a country that's increasingly divided, the roots of a liberal arts education were designed to help heal and bridge those divides, and facilitate conversation," Townsend said.

He said he's impressed by CC's partnership with the Fine Arts Center.

"It's a cool place," he said. "It's fairly rare for a small private liberal arts college to have as an overt and mandated part of its mission a connection with the community at-large.

"CC is taking a deliberate move with the community, which brings the kinds of things I care about and want to do on the academic side of the house."

Tiefenthaler calls Townsend "an inclusive leader, scholar and champion of the liberal arts."

"He will guide and integrate all of our key initiatives, expanding opportunities for students and the community," Tiefenthaler said. Among his credentials, Townsend has conducted nationally prominent research on nutrient cycling and biogeochemistry in tropical forests, and global-scale analyses of human impact on major element cycles. He earned a Ph.D. in biological sciences from Stanford University.

The top 10 applicants were interviewed in mid-December, and four finalists were selected for a on-campus interviews in early February.

CC's last provost was Jim Stauss, who worked as executive vice president and provost from 1969 to 1975, under President Lew Worner. Stauss died in 1975.

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