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- This article is about the higher education title of provost. For the ecclesiastical title, see Provost.
Provost is the title of a senior academic administrator at many institutions of higher education in the United States and Canada, and the equivalent of Vice-Chancellor at certain UK universites such as UCL. In most North American research universities and independent colleges, the provost is generally the chief academic officer. The incumbent is responsible to the institution's chief executive officer (variously called president, chancellor, or rector) and governing board or boards (variously called the board of trustees, the board of regents, or the corporation) for oversight of all educational affairs and activities, including research and academic personnel. The deans of a university's various schools, colleges, or faculties, generally report to the provost or report jointly to the chief executive officer and the provost. Various interdisciplinary units and academic support functions, such as libraries, student services, admissions, academic facilities, and information technology, generally fall within a provost's administrative purview. Finally, 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 specific duties and areas of responsibility for a provost vary from institution to institution. Invariably, provosts are drawn from the tenured faculty of the institution or from among a pool of professional administrators (with academic credentials) at other institutions. In many, although not all, public and private North American universities and colleges, the provost (or functional equivalent) is the second-ranking officer in the administrative hierarchy. Very often, the provost serves 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 often combined with those of "senior vice president", "executive vice president", "executive vice chancellor", or the like, to denote that officer's high standing.
Other titles and uses
Since the title provost rarely comes into use outside of higher education (but see the ecclesiastical provost), some officers also carry a more descriptive functional title such as "academic vice president", "vice president for academic affairs", "dean of the faculties", or "vice president for education". At independent liberal arts colleges, the chief academic officer carries the title of provost or "dean of the college".
There are other uses of the term provost in American higher education. At some multi-campus (generally state-run) universities, provost may be the title held by the head of branch campus, for example, the provosts of the Newark and Camden campuses of Rutgers University in New Jersey. Sometimes the chief academic or medical officer of a university-affiliated medical center holds the title of provost. In some universities, the chief administrative officer of large academic division may hold a provostial title. Finally, in some colleges and universities, the title of provost (and the function of deputy to the president or chancellor) may be separate from the function of chief academic officer.
The first use of the title provost in American and Canadian higher education is unclear. At the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University, the title provost dates to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, respectively. At the University of Pennsylvania, the administrative head of the university was titled provost until the 1930s, when the Board of Trustees created a separate office of president and redesignated the provost as chief academic officer and subordinate to the new presidency. At Columbia University, the Board of Trustees established the office of provost in 1811, only to abolish it five years later. The Trustees and the president of the university reestablished the office of provost in 1912. Although the precise title of the office has changed over time, the responsibility as Columbia's chief academic officer has remained constant.
Other North American universities and colleges created provostships during and after World War II when dramatic increases in undergraduate enrollments (due to the GI Bill) and the increased complexity of higher education administration, led many chief executive officers to adopt a more corporate governing structure. By the 1960s, most of the other Ivy League institutions (Yale, Princeton, Cornell, and Brown) had provosts (or equivalents), as did other private research universities such as the University of Chicago, Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgetown University, and Duke University.
At Harvard University, the office of provost has had two distinct incarnations. The office's first incarnation was during World War II and the immediate postwar era. James Bryant Conant, the president of the university from 1933 to 1953, asked the Harvard Corporation (the more senior of the two governing boards) to create the office of provost in October 1945, at time when he (Conant) spent a great deal of time in Washington, D.C. as chairman of the National Defense Research Committee. Conant appointed historian Paul Buck, the dean of the Faculty of Arts of Sciences (FAS), to concurrently serve as provost. (The original legislation required that the provost be concurrently dean of FAS.) As provost and dean, Buck had oversight of FAS (which includes Harvard College, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the Extension School, the Summer School, and what is now called the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences) and its affiliated laboratories, research centers, and musuems. However, he had no authority over Harvard's professional schools (at that time, the Divinity School, the Law School, the Faculty of Medicine, the School of Public Health, and the Graduate Schools of Business Administration, Design, Education, and Public Administration). The provost's office was eliminated when Conant retired from Harvard's presidency in 1953. During the presidencies of Nathan Marsh Pusey (1953–1971) and Derek C. Bok (1971–1993), the deans of Harvard's nine faculties reported directly to the president, with the dean of FAS being primus inter pares. The second incarnation began in 1993, when then-Harvard President Neil Rudenstine asked the Corporation to recreate the provostship as a second university-wide academic officer other than the president. A section of Harvard's 1997 Re-accreditation Report for the New England Commission of Colleges and Schools reads:
- The Provost at Harvard acts as an extension of the President. He is the second academic officer, after the President, having purview of the entire University. The Provost has special responsibility for fostering intellectual interactions across the University, including the five Interfaculty Initiatives (environment, ethics and the professions, schooling and children, mind/brain/behavior, and health policy). The Provost also acts to help improve the quality and efficiency of central services organized at Harvard under the aegis of the Vice Presidents.
- administrators: trustee, president, vice president, chancellor, dean
- other: college, faculty, professor, tenure, curriculum, graduate student
- Freeland, Richard M. (1992). Academia's Golden Age: Universities in Massachusetts, 1945–1970. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Keller, Morton & Keller, Phyllis (2001). Making Harvard Modern: The Rise of America's University. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Lloyd, Mark. "A History of Penn Provosts". Penn Archives and Record Center. http://www.upenn.edu/provost/history_provost.html
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