New Provost Embraces USF’s Distinctive Mission


Donald E. Heller has been selected as the university’s new provost and academic vice president, following a nationwide search that included 250 candidates. Heller will begin his new job as the head of USF’s academic and student life divisions by Feb. 1.

He comes to USF from Michigan State University, where he’s served as dean of the College of Education and professor since 2012. Heller holds a doctorate in higher education from Harvard University.

“I was drawn to USF primarily because of the distinctive mission of the institution, with its focus on social justice, diversity, and educating the next generation of leaders,” Heller said. “Higher education is facing many challenges today, and I believe that those universities with such a distinctive mission — and the resources and people to support it — are the ones that will thrive into the future.”

Increasing student access

USF President Paul J. Fitzgerald, S.J., called Heller a man of keen intelligence, creativity, integrity, and ethics. “His scholarship, teaching, and service have, for many years, been about access, affordability, and success for students from all walks of life. I am very confident that he will be a great champion of USF's distinctive trajectory as a leading urban Jesuit university.”

Heller stood out from other candidates for his academic vision of a university that is wholeheartedly driven by its mission, research expertise in higher education finance and enrollment, and passionate devotion to educational diversity, said Jeff Hamrick, chair of the USF Provost Search Advisory Committee and vice provost for institutional budget, planning, and effectiveness. 

"Dr. Heller is a national leader in higher education whose experience, as both a dean at Michigan State and a trustee at DePaul, makes him particularly well-suited to guide USF’s enrollment strategy and to lead the university’s conversations about access, inclusion, and mission," Hamrick said.

Heller increased the number of tenure-stream faculty of color in the MSU’s College of Education 52 percent. He served as an expert witness and consultant for plaintiffs in lawsuits promoting desegregation in Alabama and for the defense in a case challenging affirmative action in Michigan. And he worked closely with governments, higher education institutions, and policy organizations to craft policies and programs that promote college access and success for first-generation, minority, and low-income students.

Proven academic excellence

Under Heller’s leadership, MSU’s College of Education ranked 13th in U.S. News and World Report’s annual rankings — with three of the college’s programs ranked No. 1, and seven more ranked in the top 10.

Heller has published over 175 articles, book chapters, and other publications. His research has appeared in scholarly journals, including the Journal of Higher Education. His work has been reported on by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and National Public Radio. He is editor or co-editor of six books, including: Student Financing of Higher Education: A Comparative Perspective.

One of the first things Heller plans to do at USF is convene a "listening tour,” to get to know faculty, staff, and students. “I will focus on learning as much as I can early on. This will include hearing about those things that we are doing well, as well as those that may need more of my attention as provost,” Heller said.

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