Rumours circulated across campus after a South African media outlet published leaked information speculating Reuben Brigety, the University’s seventeenth vice-chancellor, would be President Joe Biden’s nominee for the South African ambassadorship position. After a few weeks of speculation, Brigety confirmed his resignation to the student body. The resignation, effective December 21, 2021 came after eighteen months of service. The former vice-chancellor, John McCardell, served for ten years. Former Provost Nancy Berner stepped in as vice-chancellor pro-tempore upon his resignation, and was appointed acting vice-chancellor on January 21.
The Chancellor, Robert Skirving, confirmed that the leaked article was the first the Board of Regents learned of Brigety’s possible resignation. According to Skirving, the Regents met December 6 and 7 as their first opportunity to discuss speculations surrounding his nomination. In compliance with University ordinances, in the event that the vice-chancellor is unable to fulfill their role for a short period of time, the University provost assumes the role of vice-chancellor pro-tempore. In the event of a resignation, calling for a longer period of time for the Board of Regents to conduct a search process for the next vice-chancellor, the Board of Regents needs to elect an acting vice-chancellor, which in this case is former Provost Nancy Berner.
“It’s very normal for the provost to step in,” Berner said. “…but that’s not the way it always goes and certainly not the way it had to go here, because the Regents needed to determine who they were going to appoint as acting vice-chancellor.”
Parker W. Oliver (C’89), associate vice-president of marketing and communications, says that the abrupt transition will not affect any institutional strategic planning. University priorities created by both the Board of Regents and Brigety will continue despite his absence (as outlined in the four pillars including student success, diversity, equity, and inclusion, economic development and domain stewardship, and curricular renewal and innovation). Berner plans to continue the pre-existing strategic planning initiatives, including projects with Nikki Hamilton (C ’99) centered around globalizing Sewanee, but has not initiated any of her own. The Board of Regents has yet to formulate the next selection process, but plans to meet February 14, 2022 and intends to maintain a transparent process with the University community.
Arriving in 1992 as a biology professor, Berner transitioned to administrative roles after twenty years as a faculty member. After holding the title of associate provost for five years, she was appointed provost in 2017.
“I think we all bring something different to the role…I bring a historical perspective to the role that just gives me a different way of looking at the day-to-day that happens in the institution. It also helps me to know, having been involved myself, in past strategic planning efforts the last two or three [years] to think about the current one and to think about how we should do it and bring everyone into the process,” Berner says.
Although she enjoyed the classroom and individual interactions with students, Berner transitioned to administrative work when she realized she could have a broader impact at the institutional level.
“Of course, leading through COVID, really brought the institution together,” Berner said. “We’ve been breaking down silos and really collaborating across offices for quite a while, and I think that COVID really had an impact on that. Leading through all of those areas has provided me with a lot of background for this job.”
She declined to comment on her future positions once a permanent vice-chancellor is found, and Brigety also declined to speak with The Purple.
“I am just really honored to be in this position,” Berner said. “When I came thirty years ago, this was the farthest thing from my mind. I would never have envisioned it. But I think that as I have gone along through my career here, there have been very few times I have said ‘no.’ This just felt like the next step along the way…”
A website detailing the search process for the next vice-chancellor should be sent to students later in February, after the Board of Regents convenes to design the process.