Interim provost leaving for Oregon State
CHAMPAIGN — Edward Feser, the interim provost at the University of Illinois, is leaving next month to take a top administrative job on the West Coast.
Feser, the campus’ chief academic and budget officer for the past 16 months, will be executive vice president and provost at Oregon State University effective Feb. 28.
Feser, whose family lives on the West Coast, said the move was based more on personal considerations than any factors in Illinois. The son of a U.S. National Park ranger, he grew up in Montana, Washington and northern California, and describe the move as a “homecoming.”
“It wasn’t expected really, just a unique situation,” he said Monday morning.
When he returned to Illinois in 2012 as dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts, he expected to keep that position for five to eight years, then consider where he might want to finish his career. His family is in the Northwest, and his wife is from the South.
But in September 2015 he agreed to step in as interim provost and vice chancellor for academic
affairs after former Provost Ilesanmi Adesida resigned following the departure of Chancellor Phyllis Wise.
An urban planner by training, Feser won praise from administrators and faculty alike for his steady leadership during a time of administrative turmoil and financial uncertainty stemming from the state budget crisis. He said he realized the provost’s job was “a good fit for me, given my background in city planning and economics and public policy.”
He also believes strongly in the land-grant university mission, and “there aren’t a whole lot of land-grant institutions in the Pacific Northwest,” he said.
“So when Oregon State came along, it was one I had to look at. You don’t get that many opportunities,” he said.
Chancellor Robert Jones offered him the job on a more permanent basis, for at least two years, subject to trustee approval, Feser said. But he said he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get back out West.
“He’s been very generous and supportive. And I’ve really enjoyed working with the chancellor,” Feser said.
He said Oregon State has undergone an “extraordinary transformation” over the last decade or so under the leadership of President Edward Ray. It’s a similar campus to Illinois, with strong engineering, science and technology programs and an environmental focus, which is important to him, Feser said.
“It’s kind of rising,” he said. “In that sense it’s an opportunity for me to help continue to push a land-grant institution up.”
Feser said he feels bad about leaving in the middle of the state budget crisis and with a campuswide budget reform process still under way.
But he said the state’s financial problems weren’t the determining factor in his decision. He viewed it as a challenge, “one that I’ve relished trying to figure out ways to solve with a lot of other smart people.”
Other states, including Oregon, are facing similar financial pressures, though not as “extreme” as Illinois, he said.
“The situation in Illinois is not a reason to go. This is a great institution. I have a lot of affection for the University of Illinois and the people here,” he said.
“Everybody in my family is in the West,” he said. “I've been away from the West since I graduated from college. With my parents getting older, and just being away from that part of the world for that long, this was just too attractive to pass up.”
Jones said he will consult with the Council of Deans this week to discuss how to fill the position on an interim basis, pending the selection of a permanent replacement.
Feser, who earned his graduate degrees and started his academic career at the University of North Carolina, joined the university in 2004 as a professor of urban and regional planning. He served as department head of that unit for several years before taking an endowed faculty position at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. He returned to Urbana in 2012 as the dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts.