The proud owner of a Harley Davidson motorcycle, dedicated chemistry professor for 27 years, and dean of the natural sciences for 13 years, Christopher VanOrman is now ready to take on a new position at Hillsdale College as provost.
VanOrman will officially be instated as the chief academic officer of the college on June 1, taking over for Provost David Whalen, who has served in that role for the past eight years. The process of choosing Whalen’s replacement began with nominations from the faculty; academic deans were typically considered as likely choices, and VanOrman’s long and successful career as a dean recommended him to the position.
“He is a leading teacher on our campus, a fine scholar who inspires all around him,” President Larry Arnn said in an email to The Collegian. “He is our longest-serving dean, and his service has been exemplary.”
His record demonstrates a consistent ability to manage people well, especially in the science department, which has an intense level of activity and diversity, according to Whalen.
“It requires organizational ability, knowledge of human nature, and an ability to win the trust and keep the trust of a wide variety of people for a long, long time,” Whalen said. “That’s hard. That’s rare. He has all those qualities.”
In order to prepare VanOrman for the position, Whalen will be showing VanOrman the different aspects of the job for the rest of the semester. VanOrman will essentially shadow Whalen in all that he does: attending board meetings and dean and faculty meetings and observing the other odds and ends of the job.
“They are going to be huge shoes to fill,” VanOrman said of Whalen. “I was very sad to see him step down because he’s very good at what he does.”
Whalen will still retain a position in the administration as the associate vice president of curriculum, according to Arnn.
This new position will involve giving advice and providing insight to the administration.
“David is a treasured friend, and he is not allowed to go anywhere except as far away as the English department,” Arnn said. “We will still have his counsel.”
As Whalen put it, he will be “the official tower-lodged contemplative monk for the college.”
VanOrman met with Arnn and Whalen in November to interview for the position and was informed by Arnn last Wednesday of his appointment. According to Arnn, VanOrman’s experience as a dean of the sciences, which is a “core area in the liberal arts,” will assist in new projects for the college.
“Chris has worked skillfully to build the college core into an integrity and will continue that,” Arnn said. “We are working on an extensive project in the relation between natural science and faith.”
According to VanOrman, his attention to detail, analytical framework, and ability to connect with just about anyone on campus will assist him immensely to succeed in the position.
“I’ve always gotten along well with people,” VanOrman said. “It doesn’t matter to me whether you’re a groundskeeper, maintenance person, housekeeper, whatever; we all have a job to do, and if they don’t do their job then I can’t do mine. And vice versa.”
VanOrman said that he will not continue teaching, at least for the first few years, as he settles into the new position as provost. This is a decision that VanOrman does not take lightly.
“I love teaching. I love Hillsdale,” he said. “This will be my 27th year that I’ve taught. The realization that this general chemistry class will be the last course I teach for a couple of years hit me hard.”
When he found out that he would become the next provost, VanOrman, while delighted, described a bittersweet feeling.
“Later that evening, I was like, ‘oh my gosh, this is it; this is my last semester,’” he said. “That hurt a little bit because I love that.”
However, VanOrman said he is ready to take on this new position as a mentor and advisor to the college faculty and staff.
“My main goal is to lead the college to make it one of the best liberal arts schools in the country,” VanOrman said. “The deans and faculty that we have are amazing. It’s not like I have to do this all on my own. We work together.”