What is the Role of a College Provost?

Throughout the developed world, institutions of higher learning maintain senior academic officials: executive administrators, to whom the various heads of different services and facilities report. In some countries, this level of academic position is referred to as a pro-vice chancellor or deputy vice chancellor. In the United States and Canada, the position is instead referred to as provost (specifically, college provost), a title that is used in a slightly different capacity elsewhere in the world (typically as the head of an individual college). A comparison may be drawn between the provost of an American university, and a high school vice principle charged with the oversight of individual academic department heads.

At a major university in the United States, the heads of individual schools, colleges or facilities may report directly to the college provost. Alternatively, particularly in the case of larger schools, they may report jointly to the provost and the school’s chief executive officer. This CEO position is usually referred to by a more familiar academic title; president, chancellor and rector are common.

Other Titles for College Provost

Certain institutions, notably universities dedicated to either research or the liberal arts (schools which are especially focused on academics), there are other titles by which the position of provost may be known. These most commonly include chief academic officer (normally abbreviated to CAO) and vice president for academic affairs. Small, independent colleges, including for-profit schools, sometimes use the title of “dean” to refer to the provost, either “dean of the faculty” or “dean of the college.”

What Does a Provost Do?

Throughout the United States, the position of provost typically entails being the second-highest authority figure at a college or university. They are normally concerned, specifically, with the operation of critical student support services; the administrative officials of student libraries, admissions, and information technology will usually report directly to their institution’s provost. In turn, the provost reports to the board, trustees or corporation which governs the institution and its policies. At institutions which maintain a separate CEO position, they report to the CEO on certain matters, as well as taking on their duties during leaves of absence.

Academic and Professional Qualifications

Most provosts hold advanced graduate degrees in fields such as education, administration or communications; a keen understanding of all three is required, in order to discharge the duties which are inherent to the position. Provosts will often find themselves in charge of fundraising, and involved in the organization of student activities; at times, they may be the public face of their institution, requiring that they be able to engage in positive public relations. At the same time, their day-to-day job description is largely business-related and administrative; they connect various essential services, and must often find the money to fund them.

The provost is an interesting position, with a lot of responsibility and substantial compensation to match it. The position is one of them ore publicly visible, but may be all but invisible to day-to-day student life. It allows the opportunity to improve and strengthen a college or university, affecting the lives of thousands of students for years to come, and is seen by many people as being very satisfying in its potential for positive impact.

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