Martha Potvin
Martha Potvin

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Martha Potvin, dean of the University of North Dakota's largest college, has been chosen as Montana State University's new provost, making her the first woman to permanently hold the No. 2 job at the Bozeman campus.

"I'm excited," Potvin, 57, said by phone Friday. "I'm ready to go. It's a wonderful opportunity for me and a great institution. I look forward to working with the president."

MSU President Waded Cruzado announced her choice in a press release, calling Potvin "a wonderful addition to our university" and "an excellent fit for MSU."

Potvin, who said she had been earning around $190,000 as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at UND, will earn a base salary at MSU of $198,000, said Cathy Conover, MSU vice president for communication. A full compensation package is still being negotiated, and the Montana Board of Regents will vote on it in November, Conover said.

MSU's previous permanent provost, Dave Dooley, earned just under $170,000 plus $15,000 for administering a research grant.

Potvin will start her new job in January.

The announcement ends months of searching to fill the job of provost and vice president for academic affairs. The provost is one of the most powerful leaders at MSU, in charge of all academic issues and essentially in charge in the president's absence.

Potvin will replace Joe Fedock, who has held the provost's job on an interim basis since Dooley left a year ago to become University of Rhode Island president.

MSU added provost to the title of vice president for academic affairs in 1992, and since then the job has been held by men, according to the provost's office. Retired nursing professor Kay Chafey served as vice president for academic affairs in 1991 on an interim basis.

Asked about becoming MSU's first female provost, Potvin said that was "very cool."

Potvin said her visit to Bozeman left her with several impressions: "Gorgeous views wherever you go and a thriving little downtown. Great restaurants. I think I had buffalo three nights."

The 21-member search committee, led by Doug Steele, MSU vice provost and Extension director, received 73 applications for the job.

Four finalists - two men and two women -- visited the MSU campus last month for public and private interviews. One finalist, Sandra Woods, dean of Colorado State University's College of Engineering, withdrew from consideration, according to MSU's press release.

Potvin earned a bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Connecticut in 1976, a master's degree in botany and plant ecology from Michigan State University in 1980 and a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Nebraska in 1984.

She said she became a biology professor because "I like to teach students at that level. I kept pressing myself to get more and more education."

She began her career at the 12,000-student West Chester University in Pennsylvania in 1985. Over 16 years, she rose from professor to department chair to interim dean of graduate studies and extended education.

In 2001 she moved to the 13,000-student University of North Dakota, which like MSU is classified as a top 100 doctoral university with high research activity. This fall she began her 10th year as dean of its largest college, which teaches both sciences and liberal arts courses. She was UND interim provost for one year.

In her application, Potvin said she was proud that at her college, outside research funding more than doubled, the number of women professors increased, fundraising and online education expanded and faculty salaries improved. She co-chairs UND's environmental sustainability council and helped start a Women's Fund to help women and girls in the local community.

When asked about a controversy in 2005, when a UND choir director claimed she fired him because he was gay, Potvin said last month that a faculty committee heard his grievance and upheld her decision. She said she has a great record of increasing inclusiveness and has worked well with a number of gay and lesbian people.

Potvin said her husband, Steve Jones, has a Ph.D. and works as an environmental consultant. They have a son and a daughter in college, and a couple of cats, Miss Kitty and Mabel.

In her spare time, Potvin said she enjoys gardening, sewing, quilting and reading. Growing up in Connecticut, she said, she enjoyed fishing, and now that she's moving to Bozeman, "I sure would like to get back to fishing."

"We're just delighted to have the opportunity to come" to MSU, she said.

Marvin Lansverk, Faculty Senate chair and an English professor who was on the search committee, said he felt "very excited" about the successful hiring.

"In a state where faculty salaries and administrative salaries lag far behind other institutions, that makes it difficult," Lansverk said. "Success is not a given."

The median salary for provosts and chief academic affairs officers at doctoral universities was $265,056 last year, according to The College and University Professional Association for Human Resources.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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