Students Still No Closer to Knowing What the Heck a Provost Is

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by Veronica Zolter
Staff Writer

"The provost is that boring woman who talked between the president and the diploma distribution today," said one proud graduate. "What does she do? Oh, I didn't realize she worked here."

While a leading Washington think tank maintains that its recent survey of college provosts offered fresh insights into the role of these decision makers in academia today, some students across the country remain puzzled at its implications and, even, just what a provost does anyway.

The 20 questions distributed by JYNQU (Jobs You Never Quite Understood) were emailed to provosts at more than 500 campuses across the country. 200 were returned to sender with no forwarding address. Of the 300 remaining surveys, respondents answered questions ranging from what snacks belonged in the top row of campus vending machines to “do your students know (or care) what a provost does?”

JYNQU’s press release offered a summary of findings. A surprising number of provosts (295/300) reported that they had never even used a campus vending machine, preferring to dine at local restaurants unstaffed by students and out of the budget range of most on campus. Others doodled around the question “what is a provost,” filling in each “O” with a smiley. A few pencilled in “If you don’t know, we’re not gonna tell you” and “Read my anonymous blog.”

Asked her reactions to the survey results, Sue Smith, graduate student in educational administration at Nirvana Online University says she knows what a provost is. “That’s kind of like the head honcho,” she replied in an email. “But not quite. It didn’t really bother me that they didn’t know what’s in the vending machine. I grow all my food at home, home school my 10 gifted children and never need to go to campus. I intend to become a college president and supervise a provost within the next five years.”

Jody Day of Wilson Community College whipped out her cell phone and hit a few keys. “Aha. I know that the origin of the word means ‘keeper of a prison.’ Therefore, I’m sure the provost is the person who orders uniforms for cleaning staff, security and maybe even the sports team. Maybe the provost makes the parking rules, too.”

JYNQU hopes the study will continue to open up lines of communication between upper administration and students. Or, if the position is found to be entirely superfluous, it will go the way of the department of modern languages at many participating colleges.