Chancellor's Friday Letters

What’s a Provost?

What’s a Provost?

January 29, 2010

Dear Friends,

“What the heck is a Provost?”

That question was directed to me by three rodeo cowboys in Pendleton, Oregon some years ago when I served as Provost and Executive Vice President of Oregon State University. It is timely today to resurrect the story – which I’ll return to at the end of this letter – as we are in the final throes of a search for the Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor of UC Riverside.

We currently have several finalists visiting campus for this position. While there is some understanding within academe about this position, there is less understanding elsewhere. The short answer is that the incumbent serves as the chief academic officer providing rigorous academic leadership to the entire university campus, as well as managing campus operations.

So what does this mean?

The Executive Vice Chancellor (EVC) portion of the position means he/she is my leading senior executive responsible for day-to-day campus operations. The incumbent convenes as appropriate other vice chancellors, deans, and senior administrators to address issues that cut across organizational lines. The EVC manages the campus-wide budget process, including operating budget allocations and capital finances, and leads strategic campus initiatives.

The “Provost” is the chief academic officer of the Riverside campus and has principal responsibility for the planning, development, implementation, assessment and improvement of academic programs, policies and supporting infrastructure.

The Provost has responsibility for ensuring Riverside’s academic excellence through planning for faculty recruitment, retention and renewal as well as through rigorous review of faculty appointments, tenure and promotion. He/she has overall responsibility for the planning, quality and delivery of education provided to our undergraduate, graduate and professional students. These activities are carried out in consultation and cooperation with deans, faculty and the Academic Senate under UC’s shared governance model.

This is a vital position for us, and one that requires leadership ‘from the middle,’ as the incumbent must have a strong, respectful and informed working relationship with the deans and university librarian, the faculty and Academic Senate, student leadership, staff, the other vice chancellors and me as Chancellor.

We look to the Provost for executing the strategic and aspirational plan directing this wonderful campus, including aligning our resource allocations for the future. She/he fosters and supports our network of research and creative activity, engagement through outreach, and UCR’s teaching/learning environments to ensure impact to the region, state, nation and world. The Provost must have an enduring commitment to excellence through the enriching diversity of faculty, students, staff and ideas – excellence as judged on a national standard.

Returning to my tale from the Pendleton Roundup… this is one of Oregon’s storied annual “places to be” if you were involved in business, politics or education. Since I was Provost of Oregon State University at the time, I was involved in all three!

At a social event, I was approached by three senior members of the Roundup Board – each bonafide rodeo cowboys. They sauntered up to me and asked over a beverage what I did at Oregon State University. As I carefully gauged the size of their belt buckles (the biggest silver ones mean they have earned great respect) I puffed my chest out and told them proudly I was Provost and Executive Vice President. They looked puzzled, musing that they knew what a president is, and a professor and a dean – but what the heck is a provost?

I bounced back a little bit, regained my wits, and described the activities I had been engaged in the previous few days… There had been a budget matter, a faculty personnel retention, a student grievance appeal, some clean-up/follow-up to a remark made by the president, and a strategic policy interpretation, to name a few.

I then turned the tables as fair game, and asked of them “what is the rodeo equivalent of a provost?” In about 15 seconds and with no dissenting opinions, these gentlemen blurted out “the rodeo clown.”

While “rodeo clown” certainly doesn’t speak to the academic seriousness of a Provost’s work, it is an apt metaphor in other respects… the position requires strength, intelligence, tolerance for risk, understanding of the local culture, judgment, strategy, communication, humor, agility, tactics, resolve, timeliness and ability to think on your feet – all leading to successful outcomes and a goal to get it right and not let anyone be hurt!

The term Provost originates from the Latin verb praeponere, meaning “to put in front,” and ultimately our next Provost must integrate all the attributes I’ve just described in order to advance UCR’s pursuit of academic excellence, access, diversity and engagement.

Best regards,


Tim White, Chancellor

What Ever Became of Stuffing People into VW bugs?
Today’s UCR students are featured on KABC news for “freezing” around the Bell Tower.

Highlanders and Military Appreciation Day This Saturday on ESPN2
The UCR Men’s Basketball game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2 Saturday, Jan. 30th for the first time in team history. Plan to pack the Student Recreation Center to show your school pride. Members of the military will get free admission. Game time is 5 p.m.

Changing Behavior, Improving Care
Distinguished Professor Robin DiMatteo, a leading researcher in the area of physician-patient communication, provides practical ideas from 50 years of research to advise health professionals about the “information, motivation, and strategy” that can impact patient health.

Breakfast with Birds
Janet Clegg and Norm Ellstrand will lead a guided bird walk and breakfast in the Botanic Gardens on Feb. 13. Admission will be $15 and there is a nominal charge for parking. Reservations are required — RSVP to the Gardens at ucrbg@ucr.edu or by calling 951-784-6962.

Wondering what else is going on at UCR? It’s all listed at http://www.ucr.edu/happenings/

More Information

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Tel: (951) 827-1012

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E-mail: chancellor@ucr.edu