Levi named first Columbus State provost

Inessa Levi took the long road to her new job as provost at Columbus State University.

Raised in Belarus, part of the former Soviet Union, Levi completed her higher education in New Zealand and has worked for three universities in the United States.

“I was in the former Soviet Union during the late 1970s,” said Levi, who earned her undergraduate degree in mathematics from Belarusian State University. “There was a certain tension with respect to different ethnic groups. I am Jewish and there was a certain tension there. I wanted to explore other opportunities and other countries.”

After leaving Belarus, Levi moved to Christchurch, New Zealand, where she earned her doctorate and master’s degrees in the mid-1980s from the University of Canterbury.

She came to Hawaii to teach for one year before moving the University of Louisville, where she stayed for nearly two decades. She has been at Western Illinois University since 2004. Now the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences there, Levi will become CSU’s chief academic officer on July 1.

Levi was chosen from three finalists who visited the campus earlier this month. The other two were Cathy L. Barlow, dean of the Watson School of Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and Catherine A. Riordan, vice provost at Central Michigan University.

Levi becomes the first provost in the 50-year history of CSU.

“I will work closely with the university community to identify possible ways to improve the programs,” Levi said.

She pointed to the new strategic plan put in place by President Tim Mescon. The centerpiece of that plan is to grow the university’s enrollment from its current 8,000 to 10,000 in two years.

“I support the strategic plan that includes supporting undergraduate research and development of attractive in-demand programs,” she said. “Focus on student recruitment is tremendously important.”

When President Tim Mescon was hired last year, he said one of his top priorities was to bring in a provost. The university previously had a vice president for academic affiars. George Stanton, a longtime CSU biology professor, has been in that role, but is retiring.

Mescon said one of the things he likes about Levi is she comes out of the sciences.

“She has also been the dean of an enormous college at Western Illinois University,” Mescon said. “That perspective is going to be beneficial. Because of her background as a dean in the arts and sciences, she will be an important academic leadership voice.”

Levi will have broad responsibility for the overall excellence and vitality of the university’s academic life and programs, according to the news release. Academic affairs units, which include academic colleges and offices currently structured as Arts & Letters, the D. Abbott Turner College of Business, Education, Science, University College, CSU Libraries, grants and contracts and other academic support functions will be under the provost’s leadership.