My university is having a national search for a new provost. Responsible for academic affairs, the provost is typically the second most important administrative position. The search made me wonder about something that I’d never thought before: who are the current provosts at private and faith-based universities like Pepperdine?
Until working at Pepperdine, I hardly paid attention to the provost’s office at my previous academic affiliations. At the end of my college graduation ceremony, it was announced that the provost was leaving to become president at Viterbo College (now University) across the river in Wisconsin. In graduate school, Nathan Hatch’s last three years as provost coincided with my first three years at Notre Dame. He became president of Wake Forest, and it was very nice to hear him speak at my doctoral commencement years later. I also remember that Tom Burish followed Hatch, but that was all.
So I looked up Notre Dame and learned that the provost is, another surprise, only the fifth in this position since it was created in 1970. The current provost is also a woman, the first at Notre Dame. She had previously served as provost at Rice, and moved to South Bend a few months ago.
It led me to another question: how many provosts at faith-based schools are women? I remember reading about women college and university presidents in the U.S., whose numbers were approximately 30%. (There was a lot else behind this statistic.) But there seems to be much less information about women provosts.
It seems there are fewer women in these positions at faith-based universities than there are at public and private but not faith-based institutions. As exemplified by my experience, the provost’s office has traditionally been a major stepping stone towards a university presidency. Moreover, faith-based institutions of higher learning have had a long-standing reputation for not having many women in top administrative positions. All these reasons made me more curious, so I googled a bunch of schools. While the information only provides anecdotal evidence, it is telling all the same.
Here are some examples. At Baylor, a school named by my university as a “peer” or “aspirational” school, the provost is also a woman. Her previous position was provost at St. Louis University, and before that she worked for 27 years in various positions at University of Delaware. She has been at Baylor since last year.
Baylor is one of over 45 Baptist institutions of higher learning in the U.S. When it comes to women provosts, Baylor is decidedly in the minority. Not far from Baylor, though, the provost at smaller and much less known Dallas Baptist University is also a woman who has held this position since 2018. Among other Baptist institutions with women provosts are Oklahoma Baptist University, Bethel University (MN), and Pensacola Christian College (FL).
Turning to Lutheran institutions, I learned that women are provosts at two institutions in the West Coast: Pacific Lutheran in Washington State and Cal Lutheran in southern California. In fact, women are well represented at the top administration of Cal Lutheran. Half of the deans, three of six, are women. The new president is also a woman. Women also head the provost’s office at Augsburg University, Gustavus Adolphus College, and St. Olaf’s College: all in Minnesota. In Ohio, the current provost at Wittenberg University had worked in an associate role at Rhodes College. In Illinois, both the current and immediate past provosts of Augustana College are women. In neighboring Iowa, the vice president of academic affairs at Luther College is a man but its new president is a woman who had served as provost at Centenary College of Louisiana (CCLA). Her replacement is also a woman.
CCLA is a Methodist-affiliated institutions, and there are too many Methodist colleges and universities for me to check. I did learn that the provost at Southern Methodist University is a woman. She began this job in July, moving from a couple of administrative positions at University of Missouri. Moreover, three of four associate provosts at SMU are women. Another Methodist school is University of the Pacific, whose provost had worked at UC San Francisco and UC Merced for over two decades. Her case suggests the crossing among public and faith-based institutions. It appears that provosts at faith-based institutions still tend to come from other faith-based institutions. Yet there are cases such as Pacific that complicate this traditional model.
There are also too many Catholics institutions for me to do a thorough search. Here are a few more examples besides Notre Dame. In the Northeast, the new provost of Seton Hall is a woman who had been a dean at the New Jersey Institute of Technology then dean of the largest undergraduate college at the large St. John’s University (NY). She also worked in industry before academia. In other words, she provides another model in having a mix of previous experience at public (NJIT) and faith-based (SJU) institutions.
In the Midwest, the new provost of Creighton University also hailed previously from St. Louis University as one of its college deans. She began the position at Creighton merely seven weeks ago on October 1. In Ohio, the provost at Xavier University had worked as an assistant provost and director of the honors program at Auburn University.
Now to another observation from my limited Googling: most current women provosts had worked at one or more institutions before. A small number, though, came from within. The aforementioned Gustavus Adolphus is an example. For another example, the provost at Calvin in Michigan is a woman who joined its faculty in the late 1980s and rose steadily in various administrative roles. She has been provost since 2014. Similar to the recent provost at Baylor, she is also an alumna.
In Colorado, the provost of Regis University has been at the same institution since 2000 as faculty and administrator with growing responsibilities. In Massachusetts, the provost of Holy Cross College has worked at the institution for nearly 35 years, again as faculty and administrator in various offices.
Still, most women provosts, including those from medium-sized institutions, came to their current position from another institution. I believe it reflects the background and experience of most current provosts, women and men.
For instance, the current provost at Anderson University (IN), an institution affiliated to the Church of God, has been in this position for a dozen of years. She had also worked as provost at Eastern Mennonite University for nine years. She is, however, stepping down after this academic year due to health issues.
For a different example, the provost at Loyola University New Orleans had been the dean of the business school at St. Mary’s University (TX). As an Asian American, she is a rare woman of color to have been provost or president at a faith-based institution.
A similar case is found at George Fox University (OR), whose provost is a Black woman. Before coming to George Fox this past summer, she had been the dean of the business school at Cal Baptist University (CA) and, for a dozen years before Cal Baptist, a faculty in the business school of my own institution.
At the same time, an associate provost at George Fox headed north to larger Seattle Pacific University to become the provost there. Before moving to the Northwest, she worked as an associate dean at another faith-based institution in Pennsylvania.
Gonzaga is another institution in the Northwest with a woman provost. Moving to California, I’ve already mentioned Cal Lutheran and the University of the Pacific. There are also women provosts at Biola, Fresno Pacific, Saint Mary’s College, Santa Clara, and University of San Diego. Dominican University of California doesn’t have a provost, but its equivalent (vice president of academic affairs) is a woman. Six weeks ago she was named Dominican’s new president, starting on July 1, 2021.
My institution, whose provosts have always been men, is affiliated to the Churches of Christ. So I googled the provost’s offices at other best-known Churches of Christ colleges and universities–Abilene Christian, Faulkner, Freed-Hardeman, Harding, Lipscomb, Lubbock Christian, and Oklahoma Christian–and found that all are headed by men at this time.
My institution also belongs to the West Coast Conference, whose ten members are all private and faith-based institutions. A different picture emerged as I googled their provosts. Half are men (BYU, LMU, Pepperdine, Portland, USF); and half are women (Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s, Santa Clara, Pacific, USD). Three of the women provosts are white, one is Black (USD), and one is Latina (Gonzaga).
I don’t know how many colleges and universities–in the WCC specifically and among faith-based institutions generally–have their current provosts as the first woman in that position. It appears that the number has been growing, but I don’t have enough for a chart.
I didn’t set out to account for all Baptist, Lutheran, and Methodist schools, leave alone Catholic ones. Still, it appears that Jesuit schools have a larger-than-average percentage of women provosts at this time. I’ve already noted six Jesuit institutions: Gonzaga, Holy Cross, LUNO, Regis, Santa Clara, and Xavier.
In addition are women provosts at Fairfield University, Loyola University Maryland, Saint Joseph’s University, and University of Detroit Mercy. The new provost at Saint Joseph’s replaced another woman provost who was retiring. Elsewhere, Canisius College doesn’t have a provost’s office but its vice president of academic affairs is a woman. There are currently two interim provosts at Springhill College, the smallest Jesuit college in the U.S., and one is a woman. In all, they translate to 12 out of 28 Jesuit institutions of higher learning, or a little over 40%.
The information above are, again, anecdotal while insights are necessarily impressionistic. I hope there are some social scientists out there, possibly even undergraduate students working on an honors thesis, that will track down a more complete set of information.
In addition, there is probably a complex set of cultural, institutional, and other factors that explain for (a) how large or how small the pool of women applicants for provost positions in comparison to men; (b) the number of women finalists who are invited to campus interviews, and, eventually, (c) the number of women who become provosts. National searches normally involves hiring a firm to collect information and recommendations. Were there to be more women provosts, the early stage of getting women interested in applying is just as important as the penultimate stage of having women finalists for campus interviews.
This post begins with Pepperdine and now ends with Pepperdine… As I learned from my institution’s last provost search, a committee did the search but the president (who has since retired) had the final say on which finalist to offer the position. It’s probably the same case for the new search.
At a recent meeting that I attended, the current president said that he has wanted to diversify the top leadership of the university because it is consisted of mostly “white men” (his words). As a result, women for the first time serve as chancellor of the university and chair of the board of regents. There have been one or two recent appointments of women to upper administrative positions. These developments are neither a warranty nor promise that the next provost will be a woman. But they are moving in the right direction.