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U's Kaler picks his No. 2: alum Karen Hanson

The Board of Regents must approve the choice for provost -- the top academic position at the university.

Article by: JENNA ROSS , Star Tribune

Updated: May 2, 2013 - 12:22 PM

New University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler has made his pick for provost, the U's top academic job. She's Karen Hanson, now provost of Indiana University, Bloomington, the flagship campus of that system, and, like Kaler, a University of Minnesota graduate.

The U's Board of Regents will vote on the appointment at a meeting this week.

"With Karen as provost, we get the spectacular combination of a leader with a strong academic record and someone who has honed her skills as a seasoned administrator," Kaler said in a statement. He noted that her "disciplinary background in philosophy and the humanities ... complements my background as a scientist and chemical engineer."

Several U faculty cheered the pick for that reason.

Hanson joined the Philosophy Department at Indiana University, Bloomington, in 1976, first as a lecturer, later serving as its chair. Her research interests are in "the philosophy of mind, ethics, aesthetics and American philosophy," according to her online biography. Her résumé notes several distinguished teaching awards, as well as a host of publications and public lectures.

"The liberal arts, and in particular the humanities, may be the most under attack right now in terms of public skepticism about their value," Hanson said in her public interview for the U job. Their case, she said, "has to be made by somebody who truly believes it."

She has been provost of the flagship campus and executive vice president of the Indiana system since 2007.

She earned her bachelor of arts degree in philosophy and mathematics in 1970 from the University of Minnesota. Both her parents went to the U, she said Monday, and her father was a professor there for 35 years. Hanson was married in Minnesota in the August after she graduated, then left a week later for Harvard University, where she earned her master's degree and doctorate in philosophy.

"Our honeymoon was a U-Haul across the country," she joked.

Hanson was chosen from four finalists who participated in public interviews for the job of provost and senior vice president for academic affairs .

The others were Robert Elde, dean of the U's College of Biological Sciences; Gary Wihl, dean of Arts and Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, and Allen Levine, dean of the U's College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. A fifth candidate had been named a finalist but exited the process before his or her name was made public.

When asked at the public forum why she wanted to make a "lateral move" to Minnesota, Hanson responded: "I'm not interested in the position. ... I'm interested in the job. And the job here is actually considerably different."

Partly because of its urban setting and breadth of study, she said, the University of Minnesota has the opportunity "to be at the vanguard of a repositioning of public universities."

The current provost, Tom Sullivan, announced in February that he would step down at the end of the calendar year and return to the faculty of the U's Law School, where he was dean from 1995 to 2002. With past U President Robert Bruininks, Sullivan led the university's strategic positioning and planning process.

Hanson will start Feb. 1.

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168

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