After three years as Eastern University Provost, David Fraser has resigned following a personal request to do so from President David Black.
Fraser was asked to leave following a time of increased internal tension among the faculty and administration. He will take a sabbatical before coming back to work somewhere at the University.
“I certainly gave my resignation very willingly,” Fraser said.
“I’m not terribly into power, and there’s not much power in academics anyway,” he added.
Over the past three years, with Fraser’s leadership, “iron has sharpened iron,” Black said. But that has led to “sharper disagreements.”
The provost is essentially second-in-command at the University. The deans of the colleges (like David Greenhalgh of Arts and Sciences or Vivian Nix-Early of the Campolo College) report to the provost, while the provost reports to the president.
Fraser took the position after the death of longtime Eastern administrator Harold Howard. Before that, he was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
He initially refused the deanship two or three times, he said, and was reluctant to take the provost’s duties as well.
“I considered them demotions, because they took me away from the primary business of education,” Fraser said.
While dean and provost, Fraser has been part of a large expansion of the faculty. Of 51 new full-time faculty members, 46 are still here, he said.
Beyond that, he has worked to improve the combined spiritual and intellectual development of the faculty. Integrating faith and learning and forming distinctly Christian academic pursuits can be difficult for incoming faculty here, he said, many of whom come in without any theological training.
“‘Yeats said, ‘Education is not filling buckets, but lighting a fire,'” Fraser said. “If I have not lit a fire, I’ve failed.”
Black praised the work Fraser has done in these areas.
“The Holy Spirit was at work calling David Fraser here 20 years ago, because he has the temperament of an Old Testament prophet. He’s been calling his colleagues here to academic and theological purity,” Black said. “He’s done exactly what we needed him to do.”
But that is just what has led to some of the problems, he said.
“The fire in the belly of prophets is not easily quenched,” Black said. “Great prophets don’t make places peaceable.”
While details are confidential, he confirmed that there has been an inordinate amount of faculty tension at Eastern lately.
The decision is rooted, in part, on Black’s personal goals for the University.
“I’ve been gone,” Black said. “I could walk across campus and be a stranger.”
Due to health reasons, Black believes he might not be able to stay at Eastern for more than two to three more years. In that time, he said, he wants to make certain that Eastern is a peaceable place, one that is “deeply wise and understanding.”
“There’s no smoking gun here,” Black said. “That’s all that happened.”
Fraser’s eventual destination in the University is uncertain. Previously, he taught classes like Biblical Hermeneutics and Sociology of the New Testament. If he does not teach in the College of Arts and Sciences, he may go back to work with the School of International Leadership and Development, where he was a founding dean.
In any case, he is relieved to be taking some time away from administration to focus on his own scholarship.
“Leadership is crucifixion, because you have to die to your own goals and serve the goals of your organization,” Fraser said.
“In the upside-down kingdom, going up is going down.”