What do Provosts do?

I was asked this last week by a dean…and my mom continues to ask and not understand (she keeps asking ‘what are you teaching this semester?’)…so I thought I would try and define the role of a provost by clipping in one of my daily calendars with a quick overview of a week in this role at BSU; then post a few descriptions from others.

If at the end you still wonder what a provost does, you aren’t alone.

Today’s calendar:

Wake up at 5:15 and get ready for work; eat an apple on the way to the office

6 a.m. In office: responded to 36 emails since last night at 9 when they were all caught up; sent out 6 emails related to things thought about this morning on the way to work; edited two documents sent me; worked on 2+2 template for international universities; reviewed MnSCU’s Academic Affairs Council agenda and materials for meeting later today; prepared for the day’s meetings; finished this blog post up and posted it

8: individual meeting with Dean Gangeness

9-11: individual meeting with Academic Affairs Directors (4)

1130: individual meeting with BSUFA president

1200: meeting with director of graduate studies

1230: HR to review a personnel file at BSUFA request concerning a faculty member’s contract

1-3: teleconference meeting with MnSCU Academic Affairs Council; sneak in some food while meeting

330-430: internationalization council meeting

430: leave for Minneapolis for two days

Between meetings: keep up with emails, return phone calls, review papers coming across the desk: grants, travel requests, curriculum proposals, contracts, etc.

This is a typical day.

A typical week includes a variety of individual, small group, and large group meetings on and off campus with 3-4 system meetings each month (most now are electronic ones), review and creation of documents, response to and generation of phone calls and emails, generation of proposals, attendance at activities and programs on and off campus…weekends typically requires email/phone and attendance at university/community activities. Weeks average about 60-70 hours during the academic year with a bit less in summer.

There really is no way to list everything in a blog post that the role entails, but hopefully the above helps, along with the descriptions below.

Having been an interim president for 6 months, I believe that the university absorbs the life of a president nearly 100% of the time with the provost being about 90% absorbed in comparison. But that is just a rough guess.

From Binghamton U


From Wikipedia

Duties, role, titles, and selection

The specific duties and areas of responsibility for a provost vary from one institution to another, but usually include supervision and oversight of curricular, instructional, and research affairs.

The various deans of a university’s various schools, colleges, or faculties generally report to the provost or jointly to the chief executive officer (variously called president, chancellor, or rector) and the provost, as do the heads of various interdisciplinary units and academic support functions, such as libraries, student services, the registrar, admissions and information technology. The provost, in turn, is responsible to the institution’s chief executive officer and governing board or boards (variously called the board of trustees, the board of regents, the board of governors, or the corporation) for oversight of all educational affairs and activities, including research and academic personnel.

In many but not all North American institutions, the provost or equivalent is the second-ranking officer in the administrative hierarchy. Often the provost may serve as acting chief executive officer during a vacancy in that office or when the incumbent is absent from campus for prolonged periods. In these institutions, the title of provost is sometimes combined with those of senior vice president, executive vice president, executive vice chancellor, or the like, to denote that officer’s high standing.

Provosts are often chosen by a search committee made up of faculty members and are almost always drawn from the ‘tenured faculty’ or ‘professional administrators’ with academic credentials either at the institution or from other institutions.

At some North American research universities and liberal arts colleges, other titles may be used in place of or in combination with provost, such as chief academic officer (CAO) or vice president for academic affairs (or rarely, academic vice president, academic vice rector, or vice president for education). At smaller independent liberal arts colleges, the chief academic officer may carry the title “dean of the college” or “dean of the faculty” in addition to or instead of provost. For example, at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, the Dean of the Faculty is also the Vice President for Academic Affairs and is the second highest administrator, directly beneath the President.

Provosts often receive staff support or delegate line responsibility for certain administrative functions to one or more subordinates variously called assistant provost, associate provost, vice provost, or deputy provost. The deputy provost is often the right hand person of the provost who assumes the provost’s responsibilities in the provost’s absence.

From Yale:

What We Do

The provost is Yale’s chief educational and administrative officer after the president; the Office of the Provost oversees academic policies and activities university-wide. The provost is an ex-officio member of every faculty and governing board and of all committees concerned with educational policy or faculty appointments. He has direct oversight of all academic support units; holds institutional responsibility for the allocation of resources; and chairs the University Budget Committee. In collaboration with the vice president for finance and business operations, the provost presents the university’s annual operating and capital budgets to the president and to the Yale Corporation. The deputy, associate, and assistant provosts, together with the provost’s administrative and operations staff, support the provost in carrying out these responsibilities.

From U of Northern Michigan

What Exactly Is A Provost?

Dr. Lesley Larkin

If you don’t know what a provost is, you shouldn’t feel bad. With the exception of people who work for a university, the term provost may be a bit of a mystery. If you check the origins of the word “provost”, you’ll find that the original definition was “keeper of a prison” – certainly not what a university provost is today!

The modern university provost is the university’s chief academic officer and is responsible to the president for the creation and implementation of the academic priorities for the university and for the allocation of resources that will support those priorities. The provost works closely with the academic deans, department heads, student services professionals, faculty and staff to provide the highest possible quality of educational programs, both within and outside the classroom, for undergraduate and graduate students. An important part of the provost’s job is also to insure that we recruit, retain, encourage and support an outstanding and diverse faculty; each of whom will make positive contributions to the university and to their discipline in the areas of teaching, scholarship and service.

At NMU, the units that report to the provost include the colleges of arts and sciences, professional studies and business as well as graduate and continuing education, academic information services/library, institutional research, the Beaumier Upper Peninsula Heritage Center and broadcasting and audio-visual services.

So now you know! Being a provost is a pretty big job, but it is also an interesting and fulfilling one. We’re glad you’re interested and encourage you to learn more about the Office of the Provost and the Academic Affairs Division of the university by exploring these pages.

Lesley Larkin
Acting Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs