What is a provost?
Despite being second-in-command at MSU, many students are unaware of the impact of the role on their college education.
But to human biology senior Julie Nguyen, standing Provost Kim Wilcox is a mentor, role model and friend.
Nguyen worked in the provost’s office since her freshman year. Last February, Nguyen stood beside Wilcox and testified in front of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education on behalf of MSU regarding its health insurance requirement, which was being challenged by the state.
“I knew Provost Wilcox was testifying there too, and we ran into each other outside and just gave each other a hug and he was like, ‘I can’t believe you’re the student!’” Nguyen said.
Wilcox’s energy toward his work at MSU is one of the reasons Nguyen said she will miss him after Wilcox was replaced by senior associate provost June Youatt as acting provost Jan. 1. He will officially leave the position in July.
During his time at MSU, Wilcox has had a major personal impact on Nguyen, and a large impact on all students at MSU for the past seven years — whether they know it or not.
The job of the university provost is, in the words of Youatt, the “vice president for academic affairs” at MSU. According to the Office of the Provost, the provost and associate provosts handle many of MSU’s academic decisions, from hiring faculty members to setting the college’s curriculums and even student recruitment.
As an alumna and faculty member, friends and colleagues agreed Youatt takes students interest to heart when it comes to her decision making.
Although the job of the provost does not touch students personally on a day-to-day basis, she said she is enthusiastic to continue bettering MSU’s educational programs and support systems.
“Part of my experiences as an undergrad were not all good experiences; there were good and bad days, and I remember those,” Youatt said. “I remember the help that I needed that wasn’t there, and I remember the people who were there … I want to replicate that for other people.”
Youatt previously taught in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies for 19 years, served as Dean of Undergraduate Education and has been senior associate provost for six years, Youatt said she always has been serious about balancing the responsibilities of professional life with her family life.
Kathy Lessard, a friend and former student of Youatt’s, said Youatt balanced teaching courses, listening to students and meeting their needs.
“She just has that way about her; she is very approachable and (just) someone you can go and talk to about something you are not as comfortable with,” Lessard said. “Dr. Youatt was just one of those (people) where if you needed to talk or if you need to pursue something in your field — in this case it was family studies — she was there to give direction.”
An alumnus himself, Wilcox said the provost’s office is the center of university academic affairs and decisions.
“When you think of the university, it is lots of things — it is athletics, it is food, it is entertainment, it is the buildings and ground maintenance,” Wilcox said. “But the core of operations of the university (is) the academic enterprises: the classes, the labs, the research (and) the teachers … it’s very important work to be involved with.”
What to expect with the change
As acting provost, Youatt said holding this position only will be temporary for her. Come July, Youatt said she hopes to return to her role as senior associate provost under a newly hired standing provost.
University spokesman Kent Cassella said the university will begin its search for provost during the spring semester.
“President Simon will work with academic governance and campus leaders to begin the process of searching for the new provost,” Cassella said in a statement. “The timing of that process has not been determined yet.”
During his time as provost, Wilcox was involved in the creation of three colleges: the College of Music, Lyman Briggs College and the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities. He helped revamp curriculums in several colleges including the College of Arts and Letters and the College of Communication Arts and Sciences. He had a hand in improving student support centers in residential neighborhoods and generated undergraduate minors.
For the next few months, Youatt said she hopes to continue the academic prosperity MSU accomplished under Wilcox.
“It’s not so much about what I will craft in six months, but (about) the health of the place and the vitality that I am able to maintain so when the new person comes in, they can hit the ground running,” Youatt said.
As acting provost, Youatt will be involved in working on developing new ways of teaching and learning by expanding classroom spaces and making better use of technology. Youatt has had experience working on major projects — as associate provost she was involved in strengthening the community aspect of student neighborhoods — groups of dorms near each other.
Faculty Senate Chair John Powell said the Office of the Provost and the MSU Faculty Senate work closely with one another, and he foresees a smooth transition for acting provost Youatt.
Left in good hands
To Wilcox, MSU is a place dear to his heart and although he is sad to leave, he said he is ready to take on the new responsibilities of working with the Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa in Washington, D.C., a non-profit organization with initiatives to better Africa’s self-sustainability. It is run by former MSU President Peter McPherson.
Wilcox said a career change has been brewing within him for some time. Wilcox believes the university is left in good hands with Youatt and President Lou Anna K. Simon.
“(This) was just a good time to think about other opportunities for myself,” Wilcox said. “Life’s only so long, and (it was time) to kind of think about other things I could be doing.”
Wilcox said he is not sure how long he will be in his position in the African partnership, and for right now, he will be operating under the knowledge that this only could be temporary.
Nguyen and Wilcox’s colleagues agree Wilcox and his passion about MSU will be missed.
“I never hear anything negative; he is loved by many,” Nguyen said. “I was (in the office) the other day, and I was working and he wasn’t in the office anymore and his office was cleared out, and it was really sad.”