What’s a provost? Is a large mustache required?

Last fall, after Provost Peter Salovey was announced as the University’s next president, the Yale Daily News queried students about the role and responsibilities of a Yale provost. Not many of those interviewed were in the know.

The provost, guessed one student, does “something religious?”

“He grows a large mustache,” declared another student with conviction, referring to the ample mustache once sported by Salovey.

Most simply admitted that they knew the provost was an important University official, but they weren’t quite sure what the job entailed.

Here are some facts about the job of provost at Yale:

1) The first provost — William Adams Brown – was appointed in an acting capacity in 1919, after the Yale Corporation voted in favor of a major reorganization that led to the new post as well the appointment of Yale’s first dean of students.

2) The provost is Yale’s chief academic officer. In a 2008 interview with the Yale Daily News, Yale President Richard C. Levin further described the provost’s role as follows: “The provost … has day-to-day management responsibility for the schools and for faculty development. The provost controls the budgets of the academic units, allocates faculty positions to schools and departments, and decides which areas of faculty expertise should be sought in filling each of those positions. The provost also works with all the schools and departments on their long-term strategic plans. It’s a very important job. The provost shapes the faculty, and that’s ultimately the essence of the academic enterprise.”

The provost is also an ex-officio member of all faculties and governing boards and is chair of the University Council.

3) Benjamin Polak will be the University’s 22nd provost. Brown, the first provost, and Wilbur Lucius Cross, the third, were acting provosts.

4) Yale has had four women provosts: Hanna Holborn Gray (1974-1978), Judith Rodin (1992-1994), Alison F. Richard (1994-2002), and Susan Hockfield (2002-2004).

5) Yale’s five most recent provosts have all gone on to head academic institutions. Rodin became president of the University of Pennsylvania; Richard became the vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge; Hockfield became the president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Andrew Hamilton became the vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford; and Salovey will be sworn in this year as Yale’s 23rd president.

6) In addition to Salovey, two other Yale provosts served as presidents at the University: Kingman Brewster Jr. (provost from 1961 to 1963 and president from 1963 to 1977), and Hanna H. Gray (provost from 1974 to 1978 and acting president of Yale from 1977 to 1978).

7) The provost’s work is currently supported by five deputy provosts; four associate provosts; an assistant provost, and a visiting associate provost. See the Office of the Provost website for their names and areas of responsibility.

8) Contrary to student mythology, mustaches on Yale provosts are rare.

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