Recently, in an e-mail to the faculty and staff at RPI, it was officially announced that Robert Palazzo will step down from his position as provost at the end of this school year. Coming to Rensselaer in 2002, Palazzo served as director of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies during its initial years before becoming acting provost in 2006. Being instated as full provost in 2007 following a regional search, Palazzo has experienced nearly seven years in an administrative position at RPI.
Coinciding with the surprise absence of Laban Coblentz, the former chief of staff and associate vice president for Policy and Planning, Palazzo’s career change has been seen by the Times Union and the Chronicle for Higher Education as a representation of the “controversial” leadership style of President Shirley Ann Jackson. Palazzo would not comment on the assumptions of the two papers, but stated the reason for his leaving simply as “it was just time,” rather than as a result of any other factors.
Palazzo’s career as provost has been during a time of significant changes here at RPI. With Jackson’s Rensselaer Plan having been implemented in 1999, Rensselaer campus has experienced not only changes on campus in the form of buildings such as Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center and the East Campus Athletic Village, but also in terms of administration, as many new deans have been hired as per the Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students initiative. According to Palazzo, now is the “time to step down … there are three outstanding new deans … [and] a staff that is exceedingly competent.” If he were to have stepped down in past years, when there were many interim deans, it would have made the transition to a new provost much more difficult.
Palazzo is also known for his involvement in the Faculty Senate controversy. Involving a conflict between the faculty and the provost—who was backed by the board of trustees—the Faculty Senate was dissolved due to a disagreement over who in the faculty had voting rights. According to Palazzo, allowing non-tenure track faculty to reach the higher levels of the Faculty Senate would put the Institute at risk. Since the Faculty Senate is responsible for things such as deciding tenure, having non-tenure track faculty on the Senate did not seem reasonable to the board of trustees or Palazzo. A new plan for reforming the Senate has been negotiated between the Senate and the provost and is currently sitting in Jackson’s office awaiting approval.
After the end of this school year, Palazzo will be taking a yearlong leave of absence to work on public policy efforts with the American Society for Biochemistry and Microbiology. Palazzo will then resume his past position as a professor of biology here at RPI.