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Who's Who in College: Important Roles in Administration

There are a lot of people working behind the scenes at colleges, from provosts to deans and more. Learn about the key roles you can find on every campus here!

College campuses are huge networks with a lot of people working behind the scenes. Even though you'll probably never meet most of these people, it's important to know about them since they make big decisions that affect your college community. This guide can help you keep track of the big men and women on campus who keep institutions across the country running smoothly. The following are the typical key players you may hear about at your school or in the news, starting at the top. 

College president

This is the most obvious position, but the president is, in the simplest terms, the leader of the entire institution. The president of a college is the equivalent to the CEO of a company, so their role is to lead the overall strategic planning for and sustained performance of an institution. In other countries, this position is called the chancellor, but sometimes when there are several campuses within a university system, the leader of each campus is called the chancellor, who reports to a president of the overall university.

Related: Strong Women Leading the Higher Education Industry 

Provost

A provost is, in essence, the vice president of a university. Most often, this position is considered to be the senior academic administrator in charge of curricular and research tasks. The provost may sometimes act as president during a vacancy, such as the time between a president leaving and a new one being hired. Almost always, provosts are selected from tenured faculty (see “Faculty” below). Provost is similar to chancellor in that it may refer to the title of the leader at a particular branch campus within a university system. Some other titles used for this same position include chief academic officer or vice president for academic affairs. Titles such as assistant provost, associate provost, vice provost, or deputy provost will report to and work directly with this position.

Dean

The dean is an administrator who leads a particular academic unit, such as a department or college within a university (for example, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Maine.) Deans of individual colleges often report to either the president or the provost of a school. The role of the dean often includes leading the faculty of the particular department/school, fundraising, setting academic policies, etc. It isn’t rare for a dean to also be a professor in the department. In addition, there is often a dean of students or dean of faculty who serve as the “voice” representing those parties in day-to-day administration.

Related: Spotlight on 4 AAPI Professionals in Higher Education 

Board of trustees

Okay, so these people are a little confusing. A board of trustees is a corporate body that has complete responsibility for the government and welfare of a university. The board is made up of advisors who, in almost all cases, don’t hold any positions at the school itself (this, of course, doesn’t include key constituents such as the university president, and occasionally deans and faculty). The board will often include well-known alumni and state politicians, especially for state schools. This group—which ranges in size depending on school population, public or private affiliation, etc.—does such duties as selecting the president, determining major goals of the university, approving policies and procedures, reviewing the budget, and other related tasks.

Faculty

As you may know, faculty refers to the body of professors that teaches courses to students. However, there are several different levels of faculty members:

  • Adjunct professors work part-time and will often be hired on a contractual basis. These professors don’t generally have research responsibilities and are hired based on the demand of a particular course. (Sometimes if there aren’t enough students enrolled in a class, it will be canceled.)
  • Tenured faculty members are full-time professors who have a contractual right not to have their positions terminated unless there’s just cause. Tenured faculty members often conduct research in addition to teaching courses, and most (if not all) tenured professors have had books published. There’s often criticism of tenured faculty, since these professors can be lackluster, overly focused on research, and sometimes “troublemakers” (remember, they can’t be fired unless there’s just cause—so who wouldn’t go hog-wild?).
  • Teaching assistants (aka TAs) are graduate or PhD students that many universities have leading undergraduate courses. TAs often teach those courses as part of a compensation package to help pay for their advanced degree program.

Related: Spotlight on Black Faculty at Colleges and Universities

So there’s the president, provosts, deans, board of trustees, faculty members…and then there’s you, the students—arguably the most important people on campus! Everyone in an administrative position is there to make sure you have the best experience at your school, so don’t be afraid to chat with them if you ever get the chance. They wouldn’t be there without the students who make up their university communities, so be sure to ask questions about class or campus policies that you care about.

Find and connect with your future campus community by checking out all our featured colleges and universities.

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