Provost candidate offers vague plans to improve diversity, aid students with disabilities

Vice President for Research at Tulane University Giovanni Piedimonte said issues such as improving diversity and providing financial support to students would not be under his watch as provost. ORACLE PHOTO/BELLA BLIND

During Tuesday’s final Tampa provost search town hall, finalist Giovanni Piedimonte avoided questions regarding his plans of increasing diversity and aiding students with disabilities. 

There were six in-person audience members at the Patel Center for Global Sustainability and about 60 watching online during the hourlong meeting.

To ensure a diverse environment, Piedimonte, who currently serves as the vice president for research at Tulane University, said he focuses on a person’s talent and motivation, and he is willing to accept anyone who is prepared to work hard.

“You need to get the talent,” he said. “Men, women, Black and white. You get the best of the best.”

He was questioned again about his specific plans on breaking diversity barriers and creating an inclusive environment. However, he said that is not the provost’s responsibility.

The position description outlined on the provost search site states that the chosen provost will play an “essential role” in increasing and promoting diversity and inclusivity across campuses for faculty, staff and students.

To access higher education, some students need financial support. With the assistance of the provost, more support could be offered to students, according to the site. However, according to Piedimonte, this is also the president’s job and not the provost’s.

“Frankly, that part [aiding students with financial resources] I think is more for the president, because it requires more financial resources,” he said.

While Piedimonte told audience members the topic of aiding those with disabilities is important to him, he did not have a clear proposal on how to help. However, he noted that more of the newer buildings contain physical structures that will benefit those with disabilities. 

“You just call your architects and say ‘I want everybody to be able to access this building,’” he said. “The issue is throughout the whole world. I continue to say that I’ve always walked in the direction of inclusiveness.” 

When asked about how the learning environment can be improved for those with disabilities, Piedimonte proposed he would make a plan that will help set a “criteria” for someone. 

If elected as provost, Piedimonte said in his first 100 days he would gather faculty input, obtain the necessary resources and then notify faculty on the plan for the next three to five years. In order to accomplish these goals, Piedimonte said his prior experiences have helped shape his future provost plans. 

“When I became VPR [vice president of research], it took me three to six months before I really got the understanding of what the heck was going on,” Piedimonte said.

However, he said he knows not everyone will favor his new plans, because it is difficult to appeal to a broad range of people.

“One thing I’ve learned in leadership is that it is impossible to make everybody happy,” he said.