It’s hard out there for a provost

I’ll be honest: I’ve never really understood what the job of provost entails. I know it’s a vaguely important position, a step below President and outranking all the various Vice Presidents and Deans. Beyond that, I’m clueless.

So when I saw that Georgetown provost James O’Donnell had penned a commentary piece intriguingly entitled “What a Provost Knows and Can’t Tell” for The Chronicle of Higher Education,  I was expecting a little insight. Unfortunately, the article is more self-aggrandizing than enlightening.

O’Donnell was once your average cerebral, antisocial academic. Then someone went and made him Provost and apparently two things happened: he had to start being nice to people and he became damn-near omniscent. From the mundane (problematic ceiling tiles in the dining hall, drafty windows in classrooms) to the scandalous (whatever academics find scandalous), he knows it all. The provost also knows a lot of Georgetown’s financial details, so he’s probably battling depression.

You might think knowing all the secrets is nice, but omniscience isn’t easy:

“That’s the burden of the job: knowing all the things that others don’t know or would rather not know. Much that I know I can’t talk about, and I have had to get used to being the object of (usually) undeserved suspicion. Because I know so much, my actions are not fully intelligible to those who observe them.”

A provost, like God, works in mysterious ways. So mysterious, in fact, that I’m not clear what he does.

6 Comments on “It’s hard out there for a provost

  1. “Mr. Provost, that roof on the dining hall? I know you don’t want to put a new roof on during sleet storms in December, but ceiling tiles in the vegetarian stir-fry just aren’t acceptable.” (That particular dining hall was in the residence hall where I lived at the time, so we all spent December listening to the contractors drill through concrete to put in the drains. It felt as if everyone in the building was having dental work at the same time.)

    I’m guessing he never lived in Darnall, even when there was a caf there. Is he a priest? Leo’s is pretty close to the Jes Res.

  2. Oh no, that’s definitely Darnall. The provost isn’t a priest, and Darnall, unlike Leo’s, is actually a residence hall.

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