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Bass Moves Ahead as Provost to Expand and Streamline Office

Scott Bass took the helm as provost in July with a promise to listen. He’s spent his first four months doing that and a lot more.

Bass has been meeting with members of the campus community, studying the organization of the provost’s office, comparing it to practices at other universities, and mulling the priorities the office needs to set to support the goals of the university’s strategic plan.

“I’ve been spending quite a lot of time meeting with faculty about concerns and directions,” says Bass, whose goal is to meet individually with each department on campus. “Part of the job of the provost is to take in that information and provide focus.”

What he’s found in his first months as AU’s chief academic officer has encouraged him to launch major changes at the provost’s office. It is being expanded and reorganized to make it “less lean” and, at the same time, more streamlined in function.

Two new positions are being added, both vice provosts. Other positions are being altered and clarified. Meanwhile, some of the work is being decentralized to the schools and colleges.

“It’s all built around the concept of efficiencies of operation, and being able to address certain areas in more detail than in the past,” says Haig Mardirosian, dean of academic affairs, who will become senior vice provost in the new structure.

Searches are underway for a vice provost for undergraduate studies and a vice provost for graduate studies and research. The new positions add capacity to the provost’s office in ways that are in keeping with recommendations made by faculty in 1994 and reiterated by a consultant in 2000.

Yet even as AU has been growing, all of those duties were still being handled by one person, Mardirosian, whose varied portfolio as dean of academic affairs is now being divided between three jobs, each with a clear and distinct focus.

The vice provost for undergraduate studies will oversee key aspects of undergraduate academic life that aren’t centered in the schools, such as the General Education Program, University College, and the University Honors Program.

The vice provost for graduate studies and research will help the university to sharpen its focus on those key areas, partly by working to take advantage of new funding opportunities. “This person will go out and knock on doors,” says Bass, who had notable success in a similar position at the University of Maryland–Baltimore County, where he was vice president of research and dean of the graduate school until coming to AU this summer.

“We have a rich treasure trove of agencies right in our backyard,” he says. “There are a lot of routes for drawing in new resources.”

The new positions closely mirror what can be found at peer institutions. “AU was very lean,” Bass says, “I did a review of 11 peer institutions, and at those institutions, 100 percent have this position.”

Faculty matters, such as contracts and the faculty manual, will remain under Mardirosian as senior vice provost and dean of academic affairs. He will also oversee the Center for Teaching Excellence, which will broaden its scope to include aspects of faculty excellence beyond teaching.

The sharpened focus on faculty development is in part a reflection of what Bass has heard from faculty during his many meetings. “People are excited about teaching and ways to improve it, which I think will relate ultimately to enrollment. Quality programs are what is going to attract students,” Bass says.

Meanwhile, some of the work in the office is being decentralizing to the schools and colleges, so that decisions on such matters as whether to hire a temporary faculty member or whether to serve alcohol at a faculty event are no longer made at the provost’s level.

“There is a desire to have more decision making at the appropriate level and to have it more streamlined,” Bass says. The overriding philosophy of the new structure and organizational process, he says, is to ensure that “form follows function.”

As the year progresses, the provost will continue to meet with academic units. Bass has met with seven or eight departments so far, primarily in Kogod and the School of Public Affairs. He has also met with one unit at the College of Arts and Sciences and a large group from the School of International Service, he says.

“Each unit is quite distinct. That’s also important when you think about policy. Certainly there are things we share, but there’s a great variability,” he says.

It’s important for the provost, he says, to “see the street level issues.” The issues he’s heard range from not enough chalk in the classroom—which is being addressed by an audit of classrooms for chalk, audio-visual equipment, and other preparedness issues—to challenges with the database system, which will take much longer to fix, he says.

As it moves ahead, the provost’s office is being guided by five priorities: enrollment, faculty development, undergraduate studies, graduate studies and research, and organizational efficiency. The new structure that supports those priorities will be larger, but also more focused.

A search committee has been formed for the two new vice provost positions, which have been advertised. Bass estimates that the office will be at full strength a year from now.

Click here to download (PDF) Provost’s office new organizational chart