Auburn University Provost Bill Hardgrave has been named the preferred candidate for the University of Memphis' next president. Approval of Hardgrave for the position is up to a vote on Tuesday afternoon.
During an executive committee meeting on Friday, Nov. 5, all 10 members of the University of Memphis Board of Trustees recommended Hardgrave for the university’s top job, citing his commitments to diversity, research and athletics and his business expertise. Hardgrave is one of three finalists for the presidency.
Memphis’ Board of Trustees will vote on the next president at a special called meeting on Nov. 9 at 3 p.m. The meeting will be livestreamed online.
Hardgrave has worked at Auburn University since 2010, starting as the dean of the Raymond Harbert College of Business before being named provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs in January 2018.
Hardgrave also served on the Board of Directors of the Auburn Research and Technology Foundation from 2011-2020 and was president of the board from 2018-2020.
Trustee Alan B. Graf Jr. cited Hardgrave’s work ethic and experience working with corporations as reasons for his recommendation, saying he was confident in Hardgrave’s ability to “do more with less.”
“Everything that we accomplished as a school and as a community, we’ve had to work real hard for,” Graf said. “I feel like Dr. Hardgrave’s background, his work ethic, everything tells me he’s somebody that’s willing to roll up his sleeves and do whatever it takes to take us to the next level.”
In March 2021, University of Memphis President David Rudd announced his plans to retire in May 2022, at which point the Board of Trustees began its search for the University of Memphis’ next president. The Board considered over 90 candidates before narrowing the field to three finalists, trustees said.
The other two finalists are Cammy Abernathy, dean of the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering at the University of Florida, and Teik C. Lim, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington who has served as interim president since May 2020.
Trustee Cato Johnson, second vice chair of the executive committee, was initially hesitant to recommend Hardgrave because of Auburn’s track record on diversity, which he said was “terrible.”
Johnson said he only reached the decision Friday morning after “many sleepless nights,” when Johnson said Hardgrave made him a personal commitment to diversity if he were selected as the university’s next president.
“I will support Dr. Hardgrave because he made me the personal commitment because I had not been pleased with what his former institution did,” Johnson said. “All of you who know me know that I am going to make sure, make very sure, that he lives up to that commitment.”
In January 2021, Auburn University faculty met to consider a no-confidence vote in Hardgrave and his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. After a confused and chaotic meeting, 71% of faculty members voted against holding the no-confidence vote.
After all 10 members of the Board of Trustees expressed their preference for Hardgrave, the executive committee — made up of Johnson, Doug Edwards and Carol Roberts — voted unanimously to recommend him for the position.
The University of Memphis Board of Trustees will vote to approve Hardgrave as the university’s 13th president Tuesday at 3 p.m.
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Evan Mealins, senior in philosophy and economics, is the editor-in-chief of The Auburn Plainsman.