Future provost will determine academic priorities at KSU

Kevin Kolus

With the search for senior vice president for academic affairs and provost narrowing, the question that remains for some students is: What makes a provost?

As chief academic officer, the provost at Kent State is in charge of academics at all campuses. Provost Paul Gaston, who will be stepping down from his administrative duties once the search is complete, said the position demands an individual who can “recognize the proper place of the administrator” by giving support to faculty and students.

“At a university, it is the person responsible for the missions of teaching, learning and research and creative activity,” he said. “For these reasons the provost is the individual who holds the ultimate responsibility for the hiring and development of the deans for the curriculum, for the evaluation and development of faculty, for managing certain kinds of student issues that arise.”

James Gaudino, dean of the College of Communication and Information, and chair of the search committee for the provost, said he looks for wisdom in a provost.

“You take a place like Kent State and you have thousands of creative people,” he said. “You have to start filtering those ideas. That comes from wisdom and experience.”

Gaudino called provosts “broad, renaissance kinds of people.” They have to be multi-dementional, understanding all aspects of academics, budgets and management, he said.

“The thing that I think would be difficult about being a provost, we jokingly say, ‘from anthropology to zoology, from Ashtabula to Tuscarawas.’ That’s a big job. A provost has to have a very nuanced view of the university.”

Gaston said when he came to Kent State eight years ago, the College of Fine and Professional Arts was too large. It was Gaston who helped split the colleges apart creating a “much stronger” university, he said.

“You have to have a very strong sense of academic values and you must not take yourself too seriously,” Gaston said. “I do see the role of an administrator as a service role, and I do think it is important to keep that service focus in mind.”

Gaudino, who has served under many provosts in his career, said he thinks the greatest quality of a provost is consistency in setting standards that keep deans striving to do better so their jobs never get too easy.

When Gaston met former Kent State president Michael Schwartz more than 20 years ago, Schwartz gave him advice about academic administration that has held true to the present.

“He said something then that has been a kind of refrain of mine, which is that an academic administrator should want to return to the classroom and that longing to be back in the classroom teaching is one of the clearest signs of quality in an academic administrator,” Gaston said.

“You’re making a choice to help the university in this way, but it isn’t as though you’ve undertaken some entirely different career. I think that’s good advice.”

Gaston said although he will regret leaving the provost position, he regrets even more not being able to teach as much as he’d like and wants to continue conducting his research in literature and higher education in public policy.

Contact academics reporter Kevin Kolus at [email protected].