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Friday, March 15, 2002
The Role of a Proactive Provost

Following an extensive search, the university announced its selection for Georgetown’s new provost on Monday. James J. O’Donnell, who will replace Dorothy Brown on July 1, is currently a professor of Classical Studies and vice provost for Information Systems and Computing at the University of Pennsylvania. O’Donnell’s resume is impressive, having taught at Cornell, Johns Hopkins and Yale. He has published scholarly books, received prestigious grants and fellowships and is now the president-elect of the American Philological Association — the nation’s premier association of classicists.

In many ways, O’Donnell is reminiscent of Georgetown itself: he is schooled in the classics and has a long-standing tradition of academic excellence. Yet, equally important, he also understands the importance of technology in today’s world. Like Georgetown, O’Donnell is able to look toward the future without losing his strong connection to the past.

Once he takes office, O’Donnell faces a difficult task. The university is in need of a proactive provost, one who is a strong advocate for the faculty he will represent. His position dictates that O’Donnell be the chief liaison between the faculty and the administration — while remembering that he is a member of the former rather than the latter group. Much like the leader of a professional union, a university provost must consistently go to bat for the professors he represents.

Supporting Georgetown’s faculty can do nothing but improve the university as a whole. National rankings are in part based on such items as faculty quality, retention and salary, and by working to improve these currently lackluster areas, Georgetown will continue its rise in national recognition.

By taking tangible steps like creating an option allowing alumni to give directly to academic departments and programs and actively recruiting minority professors, O’Donnell can help ensure the continued success of Georgetown. O’Donnell can also foster growth by seeking out the highest caliber of faculty members and encouraging them to balance their teaching and research.

It is entirely possible for a student to spend four years at a university and never interact with the provost, or, for that matter, even know his name. Yet, the provost influences the academic career of every young man or woman to pass through an institution. 

The faculty of a university is no less important to the success and vibrancy of that institution than those they teach. By representing our instructors, James J. O’Donnell will in turn represent us.

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