It’s beginning to look a lot like Vancouver, said the saucy CBC reporter the other day. Works for me. Snow makes everything look pretty but ultimately I like my wreaths soggy.
Hard to believe that almost four months have flown by since I first came into the provost’s office—from Labour Day to Christmas in a flash. It’s true: time does fly when you’re having fun and I confess I have been. A lot of that has to do with feeling optimistic about Memorial and its future. So much is going on. We are rolling out the three university frameworks and the internationalization strategy is about to be launched. Enrolment planning has begun and we are considering new and improved ways of allocating budgets to the faculties. From the vantage point of this office all of this activity seems to cohere. It’s all about making things better, working in view of the change that needs to happen in some areas while strengthening what we do so well in others.
It’s a cliché that universities resist change, and there is a lot of truth to that, but change is also a principle of life, one that even rusty institutions are compelled to embrace at one time or another. We are in that moment now and I find it exciting. The sight of those massive new residences on the St. John’s campus is a satisfying measure of that change. Plans for a new state-of-the-art science building are well in hand, and once the sod turns on that dream we’ll start to experience the pleasure of anticipation. Indeed, in a decade or so the look and feel of the campus should be radically altered inside and out—for the better. A campus without a crane can be a pretty sorry place. Unlike the example of facelifts and Botox, changes to the physical landscape of the campus will signal the kind of changes happening within.
After four months, I think the most common question I get asked is not “can I please have some more money,” but “just what is a provost, anyway?” Well, the answer is right up there on the Memorial website, but the question keeps coming up because the position is still quite new to us, and, to be fair, the role is still evolving as the office lives it.
“The Office of the Provost and Vice-President (Academic) has primary responsibility for academic matters, ultimately being responsible for the programs of some 18,000 undergraduate and graduate students across a wide range of disciplines. This position works in close collaboration with the other vice-presidents, deans and other members of the senior management team of the university.”
Any standard dictionary definition pretty much says the same–that the Provost occupies a significant role at the university: “An important role of the office is to align activities, operations, budget, policies, and administrative structures with the academic mission, strategic priorities and plans, and our frameworks Teaching and Learning, Research and Public Engagement.”
It’s all a mouthful and there are times I wish the job title could be closer to Google’s “Enlightenment Engineer,” otherwise known as the resident “Jolly Good Fellow.” True story. Leave it to Google to hire someone to encourage emotional intelligence. Universities think it’s a tacit part of our job description, but who among us couldn’t use a good crash course in the subject? Six weeks on what is commonly called Mindfulness should get us started. That’s not going to happen in my lifetime, sure, but I like the idea and sometimes I think the Office of the Provost is really all about developing emotional intelligence, whether in the job description or not.
In Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, the role of the provost speaks to an earlier incarnation as the keeper of the prison. Another early role is head of a chapter in a cathedral. Prisons and churches–earlier versions of the university, some might say. My favourite provost line from Shakespeare’s play is, “are you agreed?” I like the implied assent in the provost’s Elizabethan phrasing. I find myself asking a more colloquial version of it all the time. “You good with that?”
As for pronunciation, I notice confusion reigns. When I am out in the world I can hear a range of odd and incorrect applications. In Quebec, even in English-speaking Quebec, they pronounce it as “provo,” probably a holdover from the French “prévot.” I never know whether to correct or submit to such an abbreviated version in that moment. It’s as if they are talking about half an office. In North America, properly speaking, we should be including the final two consonants—the s and the t. In the UK, they also pronounce the whole word but they do something funny with the first syllable, the way the Prince of Wales might say it, more or less swallowing the syllable as if he had a bag of gauze in his mouth.
I don’t have a bag of gauze in my mouth. I do have a soggy wreath on my door. Like you, I am also looking forward to a few weeks without back-to-back meetings or obligations. I will be taking the time off from blogging, too, but intend to be back on the screen the week of January 5, recharged and refuelled—again, just like you.
Happy holidays to all. Mind your pronunciation, even when drinking. All the best for the new year!