Why Provosts Should Remain Active in the Classroom

There is no doubt that serving as the campus Provost is more than a full-time job.  In fact, rarely does a day finish as was initially planned in the morning, and there is an endless “to do” list that is constantly subject to reprioritization based on the continuous need to triage.  As the chief academic officer, most provosts arrive in their positions having been elevated from the ranks of the faculty (often coming from a deanship or chair position subsequent to a faculty position). While it is true that provosts must possess a range of skills including exceptional interpersonal communication and management prowess, provosts must also be creative and innovative, and they should possess entrepreneurial and business savvy.  To excel in the role, provosts must be student-centered and they should appreciate the challenges facing faculty particularly when it comes to policies and procedures, professional development and the balancing of teaching, scholarship and service responsibilities.

Keeping a foot in the classroom during the academic year is a smart way for provosts to stay connected to students.  An immediate reaction for provosts (and their presidents) may be that the provost has no time to spend in course and classroom preparation, providing formative and summative assessments throughout the semester, and being available to students for extra help, academic advising and/or career advising. However, quality academic time with students can be professionally rewarding for provosts and it is worth the extra effort to model the best practices we advocate for the rest of the faculty.  

A typical provost has had a successful career in the classroom and is a subject matter expert in their narrow field.  The opportunity to assume a greater administrative role should not mean that provosts have to give up on their teaching career and academic interests.  Teaching one class a year – whether for one, two or three credits – is a good way to maintain intellectual curiosity in the academic field as it will also help to prioritize the necessity of keeping current with developments in the literature as part of class preparation.  Provosts who can find time to produce modest scholarship in their field walk the talk for faculty colleagues who are always encouraged by deans and the academic administration to write. 

Provosts often do not have enough time to interact routinely with students.   Spending focused time in the classroom with the students can be a gentle reminder about student success priorities.  Faculty learn from their students about what is on their minds when it comes to program satisfaction.  Faculty also experience first-hand the level of student engagement with their course and work, and they observe student behaviors and may learn of external barriers that may be preventing some students from excelling.  Perhaps most important, staying active in teaching and all of the responsibilities that go along with the privilege of doing so, is a good reminder for administrators of the amount of effort that it takes to prepare a new or updated syllabus, the time spent reviewing materials and designing engaging classroom interactions regardless of the teaching modality, the effort and concentration that is required to provide routine meaningful formative assessment, the amount of thought that goes into developing assignments, quizzes and exams, and the joy of mentoring and advising students who are intellectually curious and preparing to make a difference in the world when they complete their formal education. 

Yes, it takes a lot of effort to make the commitment to teach while managing the endless daily work of a provost, but the personal and professional rewards are immense.  I highly recommend it.  

Written by Patricia Salkin, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost of the Graduate and Professional Divisions, Touro University


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