The earliest recorded usage of "Provost" in connection with American colleges and universities occurred in 1756. Despite the early usage of the term, the concept of the Provost in academia took hold slowly. Across the United States the Office of Provost more often than not, lacked consistently defined duties and responsibilities. This left the office-holder to define his or her role on the administrative chart. In 1940 there were only nine provosts serving in American colleges and universities. In 1950 the number increased to twenty-nine, and by 1960 the number stood at forty-six.
Oberlin College President Robert Kenneth Carr (1908-1979) first recommended the development of a Provost's Office to the Board of Trustees in 1960 (Board of Trustee Minutes 23 March, 1960). The Board unanimously approved Carr's suggestion and instructed him to draw up the specifications of duties along with the revised by-laws. The outcome of these deliberations is most succinctly stated in President Carr's "Annual Report" for 1959- 60, at which time he explained that this new senior administrative position was created "in order to secure the most effective and cooperative relationships among all the academic departments." The report further elaborated that the Provost would "work closely with the President in the administration of the Oberlin Academic Program and may be called upon to act as the President's deputy in handling academic matters affecting the three Departments." (The three departments consisted of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Conservatory of Music, and the Graduate School of Theology which disbanded in 1965). From time to time the Provost was also expected to conduct intensive studies of specific educational problems, and to make recommendations to the President, the General Faculty and the Board of Trustees.
The Provost's responsibilities, as detailed by Carr and approved by the Board, still contained a fair amount of administrative leeway. With respect to department or division-wide responsibilities, the Provost held direct supervisory responsibility over the Registrar, Librarian, and Director of the Allen Memorial Art Museum. The Provost was also briefly assigned supervision of the Office of the Secretary. Responsibilities not specifically prescribed to the Provost were covered under a blanket statement: the Provost shall have further duties and responsibilities as "delegated to him by the Board of Trustees or the President" (1960 By-laws, Article V, Section 1).
The Provost was given broad ranging but largely undefined responsibilities with the College's governing bodies. Although the Provost was excluded from membership on the Board of Trustees, he was ex officio a member of the Prudential Committee (abolished 1962) as well as the General Faculty and all subordinate faculties and divisional councils (By-laws, Article V, Sections 3 and 4). This Office's involvement with College governance has remained a highly interactive function of the Provost.
Thurston E. Manning (b.1926), a member of the Department of Physics at Oberlin College, was appointed as the first Provost. Manning's evolving duties primarily centered on faculty development. He lobbied for the development of faculty support programs--designed to promote continued research and scholarship. Largely through his efforts the research status program was started in 1962. The research status program allowed three or four established faculty members to focus on full-time research for a year. Younger faculty members were also given travel support through the expansion of the H.H. Powers Travel Grant Fund. Administration of both of these faculty development programs rested with the Provost. After serving as Provost for four years, Manning resigned.
Following an expansion of the Office's duties and a decision not to make the high-level administrative position a term appointment, John W. Kneller (b.1916) was named Oberlin's second Provost in 1965. The Provost was now asked to supervise the new Computer Center, Audio-Visual operations and Faculty Stenographic Services. Responsibility for nominations for General Faculty committees was transferred to the Office of the Provost, along with administration of the external grant application process.
Kneller served during a turbulent period marked by campus unrest and demonstrations. In response to the growing student dissatisfaction and changing campus environment, the General Faculty created the "4-4-2 Committee" (Student-Faculty Congress Steering Committee). Chaired by the Provost, the committee worked to integrate students into the governance of the College and promote educational change. The result was a thoroughly revised system of student government, which provided student access and input into Faculty deliberations on a scale not experienced before.
In 1967-68, Kneller served in the dual capacity of Provost and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. For a brief period in 1967 he was also acting President. The addition of numerous administrative duties to Kneller's main administrative responsibility contributed to the lack of being able to define or focus on tasks within the Office of the Provost.
Following Kneller's resignation in 1969, at the urging of President Carr and after consultation with the General Faculty Council, a careful and deliberate examination of the Office and its place in the College's administrative structure was once again undertaken (Carr to members of the General Faculty, September 12, 1969). During this reevaluation process Ellsworth C. Carlson (b. 1917) was named acting Provost. Carlson's appointment coincided with the nomination of thirty-four-year-old Robert Works Fuller (b. 1936) as Oberlin's tenth President.
During Fuller's brief presidential tenure (1970-74) the Office of Provost was expanded to meet the growing responsibilities of the Office. Two Associate Provosts (William Godfrey Davis and David Carey Montgomery) and a director of the Office of Institutional Research (Linda M. Delene) were appointed. The Office was further altered through the consolidation of budgetary and fiscal responsibilities under the Provost. In 1973 the Director of Finance and Business Operations (renamed Vice President for Business and Finance in 1976) was placed under the Provost's responsibility. The fiscal consolidation was intended to clarify administrative relationships and achieve better budgeting. Despite the expansion of the Provost's Office under Fuller, the Provost came under fire from the Faculty. Forced to act as an intermediary between the General Faculty and the President, the Provost was frequently forced into supporting Fuller's controversial reforms. Nonetheless, Ellsworth C. Carlson was able to sustain institutional stability during the stormy Fuller administration. Upon Fuller's resignation Provost Carlson was elevated to acting President in 1974. Neither repudiating Fuller's reforms nor proposing any of his own, Carlson choose instead to foster unity largely through maintaining the status quo.
In 1975 the Office of the Provost was renamed as Vice President and Provost to more accurately reflect the Provost's function. The administrative reorganization was an effort by President Emil C. Danenberg (1917-1982) to reduce the number of people reporting to him. The change in title was due in part to a decision not to replace Bayley Mason, the Administrative Vice President who departed at the end of 1974. A revision of reporting relationships accompanied the title change. New reporting offices included the Office of Admissions and the Office of Financial Aid. Gone were the responsibilities for the College Archives and Stenographic Services, which were placed under the Office of the Secretary and the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, respectively.
James L. Powell was the first to hold the new title of Vice President and Provost. He previously served as chair of the Geology Department from 1965 to 1973, before being appointed associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Beginning in 1975, Powell's tenure stressed the importance of science instruction and represented an increased commitment to attract women and minorities to undergraduate science education. His administration grappled with means of improving student retention while upgrading faculty salaries and revising the tenure system. Powell also worked to develop a sense of community and shared purpose throughout the College. To this end in 1979 he helped found a staff newspaper (the Observer) on which he served as the first chairman of the editorial board. During the severe illness and eventual death of President Emil Danenberg, Powell served as acting president from 1981 to 1983. He was one of the leading candidates for the Oberlin presidency before withdrawing his name and accepting the same post at Franklin and Marshall College.
In 1983, coinciding with the first year of the presidency of S. Frederick Starr (b. 1941) and the earlier departure of Provost James Powell, a national search for a Provost was undertaken. After a lengthy search Professor of Psychology Sam C. Carrier (b. 1945), acting Vice President and Provost since 1981, was named. With Carrier's appointment the Vice Presidential designation was officially dropped and the title returned to Provost. This senior academic administrative position was now primarily viewed as the chief budgetary and fiscal officer, with responsibility for coordinating both short and long term development among the various divisions. The Provost remained responsible for the Office of Institutional Research and continued to serve as division head for the following offices: Office of Admissions; Office of Financial Aid; Office of the Registrar; Director of Libraries; Computing Center; Allen Memorial Art Museum; and Office of Sponsored Projects. Responsibility for the Observer briefly rested with the Provost before being placed under the Office of Communications (which reported to the Secretary of the College).
Beginning in 1987, responsibility for Admissions, Financial Aid and the Registrar was assigned to the newly formed Dean of Enrollment Planning. (In 1992 the Office was changed to Vice President for Admissions and Financial Aid under Thomas C. Hayden). Supervision of the College Archives was returned to the Provost after a ten year absence. The reorganization of the Office of Vice President for Business and Finance into the Office of Vice President for Operations gave the Provost responsibility for the Office of the Controller.
Throughout the 1980s the Provost focused on financial forecasting and the assumptions upon which it is based. Among the key fiscal developments was Oberlin's adoption of a financial equilibrium model. Increasing reliance on computers and automation accompanied the shift toward long range fiscal planning. Studies of enrollment targets, student body composition, student retention, general budgetary parameters, endowment and compensation were conducted by the Provost as part of the overall planning process. Central to the planning process was the premise that Oberlin should strive to become the premier liberal arts college and the premier conservatory for the undergraduate study of music. In 1986 the Office of the Provost coordinated a conference on "The Future of Science in the Liberal Arts." The conference brought together college presidents from liberal arts colleges across the nation and resulted in the publication of a major conference report.
As the Provost was asked increasingly to devote more and more administrative time to budgetary and fiscal matters in the 1990s, the Office of the Provost underwent further changes. In 1991 the Provost served as Division Head for five offices: Allen Memorial Art Museum, College Archives, Office of Controller, Computing Center, and the Director of Libraries. Responsibility for Grants and Sponsored Programs was transferred to the Vice President of Development and Alumni Affairs in 1991. In 1992 responsibility for the Registrar was once again placed with the Provost.
Thus, after over thirty years the duties and responsibilities of the Provost continue to remain in flux. Operating with a flexible job description, the history of the Office of the Provost is characterized by how the men who held the post over time have shaped it.
OBERLIN COLLEGE PROVOSTS:
1960-64 Thurston E. Manning, Provost
1965-69 John W. Kneller, Provost
1969-71 Ellsworth C. Carlson, Acting Provost
1972-74 Ellsworth C. Carlson, Provost
1974-75 Warren F. Walker, Acting Provost
1975-81 James L. Powell, Vice President and Provost
1981-84 Sam C. Carrier, Acting Vice President and Provost
1984-95 Sam C. Carrier, Provost