Provost 101

The provost of a university is a strong but often unknown force on campus, especially among students. Even if they are familiar with the person holding the position, students aren’t always clear about what a provost does. To provide better insight, outgoing Student Association President Anna Margaret Clyburn, in collaboration with other student leadership, asked Rice Provost Reggie DesRoches a few questions.

What does a provost do?

A provost is the chief academic officer of a university. At Rice, the provost works with the deans, vice provosts, department chairs, faculty and others on campus to support excellence in all of the university’s academic, research, scholarly and creative programs and activities.

What committees and/or groups do you serve on as part of your provost duties?

I interact with nearly all committees and groups that touch the academic mission of the university.

What kinds of decisions do you make?

As provost, some of my key responsibilities are:

  • Faculty hiring, promotion and tenure
  • Academic excellence (undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral)
  • Library resources
  • Research enterprises and centers
  • Enhancement of teaching and learning
  • Space allocation for our academic and research programs
  • Academic processes and policies
  • Faculty and student diversity and inclusion

I view my job as doing everything I can to support the goals of the deans and the faculty, while also helping advance the strategic goals established by the president.

What initiatives are you working on?

There are many initiatives I am working on in collaboration with the deans, vice provosts and in some cases vice presidents. A couple related to undergraduate education and diversity are mentioned below.

  • Undergraduate education: Transforming undergraduate education at Rice might include revisiting our general education requirements, creating interdisciplinary programs, using more creative pedagogy and using technology in innovative ways to enhance the on-campus experience.
  • Diversity: We have made great strides in recent years improving the diversity of our student body and faculty. Last year was the most diverse class of incoming faculty, with a quarter of our faculty identifying as an underrepresented minority and nearly 50 percent women. We still have work to do in diversifying our graduate student population in some areas. We also need to ensure that we have an inclusive environment for all members of our community no matter a person’s sexual orientation, race or socioeconomic background.  

What types of work do you do with students?

I wish I had more time to work with students in my role as provost. As you know, I have monthly meetings with a group from the Student Association and meet frequently with the Graduate Student Association. I also have meetings with various student groups on campus. I use these as an opportunity to understand the issues that are important to students and work with them and the faculty to try to address them. As we come out of the pandemic, I look forward to more opportunities to interact with students in person.   

What kinds of projects should students approach you with for guidance or advocacy?

Students should feel comfortable coming to me for any issue related to the academic mission of the university, which is pretty broad. If I don’t have the answer, I will point them in the right direction.

How has COVID-19 changed your role?

When I became provost in July 2020, the pandemic was in full force. As a result, the bulk of my time has been spent ensuring students continue to receive a top-notch education in a safe environment. With vaccinations increasing and the number of COVID-19 cases decreasing nationwide, my hope is that we will soon be able to return to a more hands-on, intimate learning environment. However, I realize some things will forever be changed and I am in conversations with leaders across campus and other institutions about what post-pandemic learners want and need and how Rice can continue to engage students in a post-pandemic world.

What do you want students to know about you?

I want students to know that when making decisions related to my office, I always ask myself if they align with the university’s mission as well as my own core values. Using this guidepost is extremely important to me. I also want students to know that I believe in consultative leadership. When making important decisions, I consult with a wide spectrum of people from various backgrounds, including students. In doing this, I gain different perspectives and learn a lot about the nuances of an issue and the possible implications of my decisions. In short, I want students to know they can count on me to advocate for them and their academic needs.