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What is a Provost?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 25 July 2014
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A provost is a senior official in a university or college. This term for senior officials is generally only used in the academic community, with the provost being equivalent to the chief executive officer of the university. His or her job is to supervise academic matters on behalf of the governing organization of the institution, usually with the assistance of a large support staff which helps the provost accomplish a variety of tasks, from hiring new faculty to dealing with suspected cases of academic fraud or cheating.

The term “provost” comes from a Latin term meaning “chief” or “in charge of,” and it appears to have been used originally in the Church to refer to high ranking appointed officials, later being adopted by the academic community. Provosts are appointed by the board of governors, President, or other governing officials of the college, and they are responsible to these individuals in addition to the chief financial officer of the college.

Provosts oversee anything related to academic programs at the institutions they work for. Deans and other faculty heads report to the provost, and the provost also receives reports from librarians, laboratory supervisors, and other officials who head up various aspects of the college, including sports coaches, chiefs of student medical services, and so forth. The provost typically has the power to set or rescind policies, in addition to reinforcing them, and he or she can make a variety of decisions which are intended to be in the best interests of the college.

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Most provosts expect regular reports from various college officials in addition to updates about specific or ongoing issues. The provost likes to be kept informed about anything pertaining to the academic integrity of the college, and he or she is also usually interested in issues which might influence the position of the institution in the social world as well. Many colleges and universities rely on the goodwill of surrounding towns, for example, making public relations an important aspect of the job to ensure the continued success of the institution.

Students rarely meet directly with the provost, although anyone can potentially make an appointment with this official to discuss issues of interest or importance. In the event that a student needs to be disciplined for an academic infraction such as cheating, the case may be referred to the provost after the student's case has been tried by whichever system is mandated by the honor code at the institution. Individual instructors also rarely have cause to meet with this official, since they bring issues to the attentions of their deans or heads. Members of the community may find that appeals to provosts are most effective when they are dealing with clashes between town and gown.

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