Nancy Berner named new Provost of the University
By Ivana Porashka
The appointment of Nancy Berner as Provost of the University became effective on July 1. A remarkable woman with countless accomplishments and responsibilities, her impressive professional experience includes teaching biology for 20 years before working in the Provost’s Office, where she served as Associate Provost, Vice Provost, and Vice President of Planning and Administration.
“What I have enjoyed in the Provost’s Office is that I get to solve problems for more people. I’m interested in being able to help more people, students and staff across the institution,” said Berner. She was attracted to the job by the opportunity to “take her experiences and apply them more broadly.”
“I’m certainly chairing many things that do impact not just the institution, but the community in general, and that is a much bigger responsibility, and is scarier. You have to consider the impact on all sides before making a decision,” she explained. Berner currently serves on the Community Council and as the Chair of the Lease Committee.
Berner studied at the University of Idaho and Stanford. Discussing how she made her way to Sewanee, she explained, “I met this guy also working on his Ph.D in Stanford, we got married, and we started applying to positions at different schools. Here at Sewanee, I happened to get the position, and he didn’t. We decided to come for just two years so I could work and he could finish his dissertation, definitely thinking that the Mountain would just be an interim location.”
However, Berner’s husband began to write and decided to pursue a writing career rather than one in academia. He has now published 19 novels. Berner met her husband while accompanying one of her roommates to a card game at the Stanford pub arranged by the history graduate students. “He was at the card game and I just saw him and thought, ‘Oh, I’m gonna marry him.’”
Berner also discussed the difficulties of being a woman in the professional world. “It happens a lot, right?” She added, “Especially when I first came and was young, I had a lot of male students in my classes who would challenge me. So, for instance, I would be called ‘Mrs. Berner’ as opposed to Professor Berner or Dr. Berner, whereas the same students would address their male professors as Professor or Doctor without even thinking about it. It’s things like that that come from implicit bias, so I would say it wasn’t intentional in trying to put me in my place, but rather it was more of an assuming my place for me.”
On a lighter note, Berner shared that her favorite meal at Stirlings is the curry chicken sandwich. She enjoys Indian and Thai food. She extended her congratulations to the class of 2021 and offered this advice: “Try things you’ve never tried. Stretch yourselves and try things that you don’t think you would like, because you never know. It just might be something you’re great at. Be yourself.”
What attracted you to the Provost’s job?
“I have been in the Provost’s office for the past five years as the Associate and Vice Provost. What appealed to me most was that I could take those experiences and apply them more broadly. What I have enjoyed in the Provost’s office I that I get to solve problems for more people. I’m interested in being able to help more people, students and staff across the institution.
Would you say that it has increased your connection to the community overall?
“Absolutely. I’m on the community council and I serve as the Chair of the Lease Committee. I’m certainly chairing many things that do impact not just the institution, but the community in general, and that is a much bigger responsibility…and is scarier. You have to consider the impact on all sides before making a decision.”