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Administrator-scholar at University of Virginia named UT’s provost

Maurie McInnis didn’t seek out the position of executive vice president and provost at the University of Texas. The university came after her.

“My initial reaction was reluctant because I was very happy at the University of Virginia, learning an enormous amount there, and hadn’t really thought about time to leave,” McInnis said. “But this was too exciting of an opportunity, and once I got to know everybody at UT-Austin it seemed like the place I needed to be.”

McInnis, who has taught at Virginia since 1998 and who has been vice provost for academic affairs there for three years, was named Monday to UT’s No. 2 position, effective July 1, at an annual salary of $450,000. Until then, she will make periodic visits to the Austin campus as provost-designate.

She will be the first woman to serve as provost in UT’s history, aside from Judy Langlois, now serving in an interim role. McInnis is also the first person to be brought in from outside the university to hold the position in 38 years.

In naming an outsider to the job he previously held, UT President Gregory L. Fenves appeared to signal an interest in securing fresh blood to help lead what is shaping up as a central mission of his administration: ramping up the quality of education and research.

“Dr. McInnis was clearly the top candidate to emerge from an extensive national search, and I am excited to have her join the university’s leadership,” Fenves said. “Serving as the chief academic officer for the university, Dr. McInnis will bring broad experience in academic leadership from one of the best public research universities in the nation.”

Her current boss, Virginia Provost Thomas C. Katsouleas, expressed pride tinged with disappointment “that such a talented and unique individual and friend will be leaving the university.” He added, “Her selection as UT-Austin’s next provost is a great reflection on her and, of course, a positive reflection on the strength of UVa and its leadership team.”

The Virginia provost said McInnis had strengthened academic connections between the university’s colleges and schools and helped develop innovative educational programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels — precisely what Fenves has declared to be top priorities for UT.

McInnis, who turned 50 on Monday, seems undaunted about leaving one university with its share of governance controversies for another with perhaps a greater share. Virginia’s governing board reinstated the school’s president, Teresa Sullivan, weeks after ousting her in 2012. In the latest in a series of dust-ups, a UT System regent is fighting an uphill legal battle to obtain records from an investigation into admissions practices at the Austin campus.

“It is happening in state after state where we find that there are tensions between governing boards and administrations,” McInnis said in an interview Monday at the Austin campus. “Many of those tensions are very healthy, and they sometimes can be focused on how we can improve the experience for our students and the opportunities for our faculty and students. Sometimes they are not productive. And we’ll be very hopeful that we are moving in a very productive way at UT-Austin.”

McInnis (her first name, Maurie, rhymes with calamari) is a scholar in the cultural history of American art in the colonial and antebellum South. She teaches courses in art history and American studies, including a multidisciplinary lecture class on the history and culture of the slave South.

CORRECTION: This story has been update to correct the spelling of Teresa Sullivan's first name.

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