What Does a Provost Do?

Although this story has been updated to record recent events, most of the interviews were done in the spring before Wiser announced he was leaving his position.

Each morning, Jim Wiser leaves his home on Chabot Terrace and climbs the 106 stairs to his office in the Rossi Wing of Lone Mountain. Around the same time, both Gerardo Marín and Salvador Aceves commute from Marin County with the same Rossi Wing as their target. Three men, heavy with the weight of a university’s expectations on their shoulders, make up the Office of the Provost at the University of San Francisco.

Wiser, Vice President and Provost of Academic Affairs at University of San Francisco, will step down and go on sabbatical in the fall. Presently a search is underway for a new provost. For 11 years, provost Wiser has laid the groundwork for the future of the university. It’s all in a day’s work for a provost.

But, he isn’t alone. With the help of Vice Provost of Academic Affairs Gerardo Marin and Vice Provost of Planning, Budget and Review Salvador Aceves, and not to mention two assistants, Linda Wong-Lee and Lara Hansen, the provost’s office makes it possible for the university to function on a daily basis.

Despite their significance to the university, the provost’s office remains underappreciated and unnoticed by students. High on Lone Mountain, the provost’s office remains out of sight and out of mind. Wiser said, “Though it is a really nice view up here from the Rossi Building, I do sometimes feel extremely isolated. It would be nice if the provost’s office were more in the same flow as the student traffic.”

Most students recognize the dean’s office or chairpersons of their departments, but few have ever given much thought to the provost’s office. When asked how the provost has enriched her time at USF, junior Jelica Baker struggles to even recognize the role of the provost. Instead, she credits most of her academic experience to the faculty and administration she deals with daily. Unknown to Baker and many others,  the provost has the final say on many entities that make up USF.

As head of the office, Wiser has a slew of responsibilities: signing off on new courses, reviewing tenure applications for faculty, overseeing the budget, making changes to the curriculum, building a fulltime faculty, and ensuring the university retains its accreditation.

Wiser likes to point out that the word provost is defined as ‘chief jailer’ in a dictionary, though he defines his role much differently. He says, “I would say that the provost is the individual who has ultimate responsibility for the academic operation of the university.”

Before he was named provost in 1999, Wiser was the vice president for academic affairs, and taught for 17 years before that. For the last 11 years, Wiser has made many different contributions to USF.

Wiser emphasized that his decisions are the result of many group efforts.  He said,   “Somebody has to be the one person who finally says yes or no, but it is not as if I have expertise that is unique to me…I would not, myself, define the provost as the one who keeps it all together. I think of it more as a collegial team.”

In addition to Wiser, there are four administrators in the Office of the Provost, each with a different charge, yet same goal. Together, they hope to create a USF that serves the students and the school’s mission and continues to evolve so as to keep up with the times whether they bring economic hardship or curriculum expansion.

Vice Provost Gerardo Marín has been a vice provost for six years, but has been at USF for 27 years. Marín said that since he has been at USF, the campus has changed in many ways. He contributed to a lot of the changes in diversity, new programs, and the enrichment of the academic experience to the changes that have been made within his office. “It’s been radical, the development of the university and its development into the city.”

Marín, who came to the United States from Colombia, is proud of initiatives that support diversity throughout the university. As vice provost, Marín has overseen the expansion of the study abroad curriculum by nearly 40 international programs. He laughed. “Japan may be the only exception for where I have not developed a program. So, let’s say at least 75% of the abroad opportunities I have developed.”

Marín works more closely with students to generate feedback for the school’s petition for reaccreditation. Though reaccreditation is far from students’ minds, it gives weight to their diplomas.

Although his office is  out of sight of most students, Marín knows his work is appreciated. “When I read student feedback from their experience abroad and it says, ‘This trip has changed my life,’ it makes me feel so good.”

Salvador Aceves, vice provost of planning, budget and review,  is the university’s budget officer. Aceves, who was born and raised in San Francisco, began his time at USF as an undergraduate student accounting major. After working for places like Price Waterhouse and Citibank, he found his calling in academics. “I liked the academic world enough to then go back and get my masters and my doctoral degree [in education] and that’s really what brought me to USF fulltime,” he said.

With his varied perspectives – student, teacher, administrator – and long history at USF, Aceves is trusted to know what the future of USF should look like.

Describing his role, Aceves said, “My primary focus is in establishing a process whereby short, mid and long-term planning for the University takes place.” He developed “USF 2028,” a plan to achieve the university’s goals by 2028. “USF 2028 is the end result of a lot of discussion between administration, faculty, students and staff  about where does USF see itself 20 years from now.” Though financial planning doesn’t seem to be something usually involving students, Aceves said that student participation is vital.

For Aceves, keeping ties with students isn’t a challenge, as made evident in the gifts from students displayed around his office. There is a painting from a student in his accounting course and a Porsche Boxer model car from a student that graduated last year. The most recent gift he received was a compass from a student who wanted to thank him for the direction he gave her. Aceves says, “That is the kind of relationships that I feel are enabled in a place where you truly weave your personal life and your work life together.”

Jennifer Turpin, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, has worked directly with the Office of the Provost for six years. Turpin explains that she personally meets with Provost once or twice a week, and as a group, all the deans meet together with Wiser weekly.

Turpin recognizes how much the office has achieved in the past couple of years. She notes, “I have learned a great deal from him as well as from his two associate provosts.” But Turpin can attest that the men aren’t all work. She said, “Provost Jim Wiser likes to give whacky gifts to us.  They are inexpensive but funny.  Once he gave each of the deans a pedometer to encourage us to walk more. Another time he gave us customized USF M&M’s.”

Though Wiser, Marín and Aceves come from different backgrounds, they share the common goal to make a university that offers competitive academics and a strong faculty. As team, the Office of the Provost creates the ability for USF to be what it is today.

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