Cheryl Brandsen was named Calvin College's new provost following a national search. Courtesy Calvin College
After a national search for the next provost at Calvin College, an experienced leader within the academic institution was officially installed as the new chief academic officer as the fall semester kicked off.
Cheryl Brandsen officially assumed the chief academic officer role on July 1 after a national search for the next provost, which included more than 150 nominations and 28 qualified applicants. She also serves on the college’s President’s Cabinet as part of the executive management team. Prior to her selection as provost, Brandsen served as a dean, department chair of sociology and social work, and a professor at Calvin College.
Brandsen said she views the position as a great honor, even though she went into the whole process quite reluctantly.
“I received a lot of encouragement from colleagues and people familiar with the college. I put that off for quite a while and finally decided that maybe this was something I really needed to listen to, and started the process,” said Brandsen. “One thing led to another and I was offered the job. I see it as a real honor, a vote of confidence from the college.”
Michael Le Roy, president of Calvin, said he is grateful for the gifts Brandsen brings to the leadership of the academic division and the college overall.
“Cheryl is an able servant-leader, an excellent listener, astute analyst, and clear communicator committed to Calvin’s Reformed Christian mission,” said Le Roy in a written statement.
As provost, Brandsen is charged with strengthening the academic mission at Calvin through oversight of faculty, departments, budgets, curriculum, assessment of curriculum, registrar’s office, off-campus programs, student academic support services and the Hekman Library.
She has 25 years of experience at Calvin. As department chair of sociology and social work, Brandsen said she has an understanding of the demands of teaching and as a dean became familiar with larger scale operational functions at Calvin.
“I understand what faculty members are doing, the pressures they face in their work, which I think is helpful in terms of understanding where they are coming from and having empathy for the work they are doing and appreciation for the kind of work they are doing,” said Brandsen. “Being in the dean role especially provided me with a window into lots of college operations. When I stepped into being provost, I knew the structure around here. I knew how budgets worked, I knew how curriculum planning worked … all of those kinds of things that are a bit invisible.”
As Calvin moves out of its prioritization planning phase and into implementing the new five-year strategic plan, the college is working on an educational framework to explicitly state multiple goals which will help differentiate its graduates. Although there are implicitly held objectives for majors, minors, and the general education program, Brandsen said one task the college is currently working on is bringing coherence and alignment to what takes place at Calvin for curriculum and co-curriculum.
“We have never said at the top these are the five or six or seven things that will mark a Calvin College graduate,” said Brandsen. “Then the task will be to align majors, minors, the core, the co-curriculum with those larger goals and bring assessment into that.”
Looking ahead, other steps the college will begin taking include: incorporating cross-cultural engagement and sustainability themes into all collegiate divisions; future educational programming; and clear articulation of some of the more cumbersome internal processes and procedures.
“We have done a lot of that on-the-ground work of moving forward, so now it is time to begin implementing our strategic plan. I think there is a lot of goodwill toward that,” said Brandsen. “People are tired of the financial crisis of the last number of years. People are ready to move on.”
Calvin recently raised $25 million in donor pledges, which will go toward lowering the college’s long-term debt of roughly $116 million. The fundraising milestone was completed in a matter of eight months instead of the projected goal of 2017.