UND’s new provost planning for fall semester

Debbie Storrs begins term as interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

Debbie Storrs this week became UND Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. Photo by Patrick C. Miller/UND Today.

Much has changed since early March when Debbie Storrs was selected to serve as UND’s Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs following the retirement of Tom DiLorenzo, who held the position for seven years.

On Monday, DiLorenzo officially stepped down and Storrs began a 13-month appointment that runs through June 30 of next year. A national search for the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs position will begin soon.

“Debbie Storrs is the right person to lead UND’s Academic Affairs at this time in history,” DiLorenzo said. “She knows every aspect of the provost’s office and has been instrumental in leading the deans and faculty through this COVID crisis. I am very proud of everything that she has accomplished since coming to UND.”

When then Interim President Joshua Wynne announced Storrs’ selection, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on UND were unknown.

Debbie Storrs

“While I certainly didn’t anticipate the COVID-19 situation as an interim provost, I feel confident that we have the team and the leadership to help collectively solve the various challenges to adapt to our situation,” Storrs said. “I’m excited about working with President Andy Armacost because he brings great perspective and is interested in others’ perspectives. We’ve already had some great conversations with our student, staff and faculty leaders.”

Planning for fall reopening

After nearly three months of dealing with the consequences of the coronavirus, Storrs knows that as the University moves toward reopening for the fall semester, the provost office must continue to provide leadership and support to its colleges and deans.

“The provost office is committed to providing support as we modify how we teach, work, and learn,” she said. “Things necessarily will be different because the context is different given COVID-19.”

Jeffrey Holm, Vice Provost for Online Education and Strategic Planning, said he worked with Storrs when she was dean of UND’s College of Arts and Sciences and is impressed with her transparency, integrity and commitment to faculty and students.

“I didn’t always agree with her every decision, but I knew she had listened to me, and I knew she believed she was doing the best thing for the college,” he said. “I have now had the pleasure of working with her for the past two years in Academic Affairs, and I would say her people skills, work ethic, and – most of all – her leadership are second to none. We are lucky to have her serving at the helm of Academic Affairs in these difficult times.”

UND’s Office of the Provost is in ongoing discussions with deans and department chairs on how to support faculty when the University opens for the fall semester. UND archival image.

Storrs said there are conversations occurring with UND’s deans, who are talking to department chairs about how they can support faculty and how faculty can support students in the fall. The ongoing work will continue to change and adjust according to the COVID-19 situation, she noted.

“At this point, we’re planning to have both fall on-campus and online course offerings,” Storrs explained. “We have significant support from the Teaching Transformation and Development Academy (TTaDA) for faculty this summer to help with how they’re both going to develop quality online courses and adjust their on-campus courses – given the physical distancing requirements and the significantly reduced seating capacity in every class.

“I’m really proud of the faculty,” she added. “They’re wrestling with how they’re going to adapt their courses, and each will determine how they will do so in their own way, with support from TTaDA, their chairs, deans and the provost office.”

Working with faculty leadership

Jeff VanLooy, University Senate chair and associate professor in the Department of Earth System Science and Policy, said he has appreciated working with Storrs over the past year.

“She has regularly contacted the Senate leadership to gain feedback from faculty regarding many issues that have arisen,” he said. “As well, she has shown that she is up to the task of a very challenging year to come by leading the team in charge of preparing for on-campus teaching this fall.”

Storrs is originally from Alaska, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a minor in psychology from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She earned her master’s and her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Oregon. In 2013, she joined UND as Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences and became Senior Vice Provost in 2018.

“It’s a real honor to step into this role to help support the University and work with our academic deans,” Storrs said. “I’m not doing it alone. I have a great team in Academic Affairs, and we have great deans. Collectively, we’re going to lead and manage these challenges.

“All of us have wonderful ideas, and together we’re going to implement what works best for faculty and students,” she continued. “It won’t be a uniform resolution for every department, faculty member or college. It’s going to reflect their specific needs and creative solutions.”

DiLorenzo recognized for achievements

Tom DiLorenzo

Storrs noted that DiLorenzo hired her to head the College of Arts and Sciences. She’s worked with him for the past seven years, both as a dean and as the senior vice provost. She credits DiLorenzo with several significant accomplishments that will have lasting impacts at UND, such as improving the University’s retention rate.

“I’ve learned a lot from him; he’s really broadened my understanding of the University,” she said. “His style of leadership was one that resonated with me, although it’s different from mine. The things that he helped implement and the deans he has hired have made the university a stronger institution.”

DeAnna Carlson Zink, CEO of the UND Alumni Association & Foundation, said DiLorenzo has been a great partner with the association during his tenure at UND. He served as an ex-officio member on the organization’s Board of Directors.

“During his time on the Board, he developed great relationships with our alumni and friends across campus, and always worked to develop great connections between alumni and University leadership,” she said.

The Alumni Association & Foundation’s board of directors passed a resolution recognizing DiLorenzo for his extraordinary service and leadership. It noted his initiatives to improve graduation rates; his role in developing UND’s strong online education presence; his championing of new of teaching and learning models; being a voice for the entrepreneurial spirit; and actively strengthening UND’s relationships with the Greater Grand Forks Community.

“Dr. DiLorenzo’s extraordinary leadership and courage have skillfully guided the University through times of uncertainty and change with a strategic eye on the horizon,” the resolution reads.