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Back before Ron Liebowitz was president of Middlebury, and Ron Liebowitz Day was just a glimmer in the eye of some middle schooler, Ron was Provost. One day he got an email from a student, responding to an all-campus email that had gone out from the Provost’s Office. “What the hell is a Provost?,” the student wanted to know, and “who the hell is Ron Liebowitz?”

WhiIe I believe we can set the second question aside, the first one lingers, and is the subject of a recent post on MiddBlog. The term “provost” is a bit rarified, and the administrative structures that govern even liberal arts colleges like Middlebury remain a mystery for most students who bother to think about them. So I thought I would try and shed some light on this subject. I have a personal interest in this topic since I will be serving next year as “Acting Provost” while Provost and VP Alison Byerly is on leave.

Middlebury’s administration breaks down into several divisions or lines, beginning with the President who reports to the Board of Trustees. The President’s direct reports include Executive VP and Treasurer (Bob Huth), VP for Administration (Patrick Norton), VP for Advancement (Mike Schoenfeld), VP for Communication (Mike McKenna), VP for Language Schools (Michael Geisler), VP for Institutional Planning and Diversity (Shirley Ramirez), and the Provost. Despite its image as a small college in rural Vermont, Middlebury is a complex institution that employs roughly 1200 staff members and 270 faculty members—totals that don’t include the people who work in the schools abroad, Bread Loaf, the language schools (another separate 230 faculty members), or Monterey.

For students or parents who have a question, problem, or matter they want to address with “the College,” navigating this bureaucracy can be a challenge. Consequently, some people just start with the President, and then follow-up with other offices as directed. This approach—which reinforces the idea that we have a top-down administration—deserves its own separate discussion. For now, though, let’s stick with the big picture.

Most, but not all, issues related to Middlebury’s educational programs are in the Provost’s domain. Significant exceptions are the areas administered by Michael Geisler and Shirley Ramirez, who, respectively, oversee the language schools and study abroad, and work with students on a variety of diversity issues. Also, several critical student services report up to Patrick Norton—for instance, Student Financial Services and Dining.

The Provost’s office includes the Dean of the Faculty (Susan Campbell), the Dean of the Curriculum (Bob Cluss), and the Dean for Faculty Development and Research (Jim Ralph). These administrators—all faculty members—are responsible for hiring faculty, and supporting their teaching and research. The office also incorporates, among others, the Director of Athletics (Erin Quinn) and the Dean of the College (Gus Jordan), who in turn works with the Associate Deans of the College, the Commons Deans, and a range of student-life professionals, who direct offices such as CCAL and CSO.

People sometimes joke or complain about all the deans and administrators Middlebury employs, and they have a point: we have put in place a lot (human) resources to guide various initiatives, many developed by faculty and staff and others the product of student energy and creativity. On the academic side, the College is largely governed by the faculty, namely elected committees that make tenure decisions and allocate teaching resources (decide what sort of faculty to hire), though it would be disingenuous to say that administrators don’t play a significant role in making the trains run on time or routing the tracks in a particular direction.

More than a train conductor, the Provost is the College’s chief academic officer (after the President, of course), charged with directing traffic within the administration and—of prime importance—facilitating the work of the Promotions and Reappointments Committees, which make recommendations to the President on the tenure and reappointment of faculty members. The Provost also chairs the Staff Resources Committee (which considers staff hires), administers the allocation of endowed funds, and works with the Grants Office and College Advancement to raise funds externally. So there is plenty to do and, fortunately, lots of very talented people, both faculty and staff, to make sure all the work gets done.

How clear the administration’s work is to the rest of the community is hard to say. Although faculty and staff generally know where to go when they have a question or problem, the student who wondered “what the hell is a Provost” was probably not alone in his befuddlement about how Middlebury’s administration is organized. Part of me thinks that is just fine. After all, students should be pursuing their education and following their interests, blissfully free from concerns about “Old Chapel.” On the other hand, life is more complicated than that, even within the Middlebury bubble, and students should know where to turn when they need information or help. The Commons Dean or Head is always the best first contact, but some issues necessarily lead students beyond their immediate neighborhood.

Here in the blogosphere, I’d like to devote more posts to how the administration functions and what it hopes to accomplish in the near future. To that end, I plan to enlarge the line-up at One Dean’s View and bring my administrative colleagues in for guest shots so that they can talk about the projects they are working on. Despite serving as Acting Provost, I mean to hang on to this dean’s view, and continue to address issues that are relevant to student life. But we are going to mix it up, expand the scope, and maybe find out what else is in the administration.

And, if any readers have questions, we will try to answer them too.

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