Steven Lerman, a top-ranking official at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will be the University’s next provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs, Lerman and University officials confirmed Wednesday afternoon.
Lerman has been at MIT for more than 40 years and earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral engineering degrees there before serving in a succession of faculty and administrator roles at his alma mater. Currently the vice chancellor and dean for graduate education at the school, Lerman will assume the responsibilities of current Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Lehman and the title of provost July 1.
University President Steven Knapp said he formally offered Lerman the number two position late last week. Knapp said Lerman was selected among the hundreds of applicants for his ability to engage students – he has lived in a residence hall with his wife for the last nine years and will live on the Mount Vernon campus upon coming to GW – and his experience working with faculty.
“I think students will enjoy getting to know him and I know he will be a terrific addition to the campus,” Knapp said. “One of things we are trying to do is bring the student experience together with academic experience, integrate those two things in ways that really benefit the student. I think he has a very good perspective on what that means and how to do it.”
In an interview with The Hatchet Wednesday afternoon, Lerman called his move to D.C. a “major life-changing event” after more than four decades at MIT.
“This is the first time I ever considered leaving and it was the excitement of coming to GW that made me apply in the first place when I had previously not looked for any outside positions,” Lerman said.
Lerman noted the differences between the universities, calling GW a “full-spectrum university” unlike the science and engineering-focused MIT. But despite the differences between the two institutions, Lerman said he will bring his legacy of working collaboratively with students, faculty and staff with him when he comes to Foggy Bottom.
“I think the role of provost at any university is to help realize the aspirations of both faculty and students. You have to enter into a role like this with the understanding that you’re serving the students,” Lerman said. “That is probably the single most important thing.”
The provost position traditionally belongs to the chief academic officer at colleges and universities but at GW, Vice President for Health Affairs John Williams currently serves with the title. Lerman’s hiring reorganizes the University’s top leadership, as he will oversee all academic and student-life offices – currently, those roles are split between Lehman and Senior Vice President for Student and Academic Support Service Robert Chernak.
Knapp said in January that he views the role as “serving as the president’s deputy” and said Wednesday Lerman will “be the president when the president is away.”
Lerman will participate in a public forum on campus Thursday that will serve as his introduction to the GW community. It will be one of the many times he travels to Washington before he assumes his duties as provost, he said.
“I think most of our time is going to be getting to know the community and its students,” Lerman said. “The key for me is to understand how things get done at GW and be there to listen.”
Lerman sports a distinctive mustache in his official portrait, and said he has since he was a freshman in college.
“I haven’t been able to part with it yet,” he said laughingly. “There’s always a hesitation: What will I look like if I shave it off? One day I will try it, though.”
He will live on Mount Vernon campus with his wife Lori, a registered nurse who has worked as a private music instructor and elementary school teacher. At MIT, the couple enjoyed hosting social events for students, including cooking breakfast for the residence hall and bringing musicians to campus – a tradition he hopes to bring to GW, he said.
Lerman has also been lauded for his relationship with professors. Before becoming an administrator, Lerman twice served as the head of the faculty, the equivalent of GW’s Faculty Senate chair, and he said he will take on the “contact sport” of reaching out to individual faculty members.
“To imagine there is a single will of the faculty is just as inappropriate as imagining all students think the same thing,” Lerman said. “You need to spend a lot of time listening. In my experience, the only way to do that is to go out to the schools and go out to the department and meet with individuals or small groups of individuals. It’s not going to happen by having a gigantic faculty meeting.”
Those who interviewed Lerman and the other provost candidates during the search process said he was an impressive addition to GW’s senior staff.
The search committee chairman, professor Forrest Maltzman, said the University was lucky to lure Lerman to Foggy Bottom.
“He is truly an incredible person,” Maltzman said. “We are thrilled we were able to bring him to GW.”
Student Association President-elect Jason Lifton called Lerman a “friendly, warm guy.”
“He was far and away my favorite,” Lifton said.