For the first sixty years of NU's history, academic affairs were directed by the president, college deans, and the directors of the Day Colleges and the Evening Division. The Office of the Provost was created in 1948, when the University's growth in enrollment and academic standing prompted administrative expansion. At that time, Dr. William C. White was appointed Vice President and Provost of the University. As Northeastern's first academic administrator, White had official responsibility for the Day Colleges, the Evening Division, the graduate programs, student and faculty affairs, and curriculum. His tenure as provost began at a time when administration of NU was highly centralized, so it was not unusual that one person gained administrative responsibility for 600 faculty members, 1,500 courses, and educational programs serving more than 18,000 students.
White began his NU affiliation in 1911 as an engineering student. Before becoming provost he had been a member of the faculty, Dean of the College of Engineering, and Director of the Day Division. During White's term as provost, NU underwent a number of academic changes, including expansion of its research activities and an increase in new colleges, departments, and programs. In 1950 the Academic Council, comprised of deans and academic administrators, was created to deal with issues pertinent to academic affairs, including the approval of new programs and review of potential graduates. As provost Dr. White chaired this committee. 1950 also saw the integration of the day and evening programs and the creation of University College, an academic reorganization that Dr. White helped to engineer.
When White became Executive Vice President in 1956, the Office of Academic Affairs was created. White's former duties as provost were divided among a Dean of Faculty (Arthur E. Fitzgerald), Dean of Planning, and Dean of Administration. In 1957 Vice President of Academic Affairs was added to Dr. Arthur E. Fitzgerald's previous title, and he gained responsibility for all academic and research programs. During the 1970s there was rapid turnover in the position of provost, with Sidney Herman, James Hekimian, Harry Allen, and Walter Jones filling the role between 1974 and 1979.
In general the provost's office is responsible for all academic affairs. This includes administration of new programs and courses, and program and course evaluations. Faculty matters, such as tenure policies and grievance procedures, are managed by the provost. The office of the provost acts as a liaison between the faculty and the rest of the administration. The budget for academic affairs, which is roughly half of the total University budget, is overseen by the provost. The provost is also responsible for the teaching and research activities of the faculty, including managing grant funds that support teaching and research activities. While these responsibilities remain constant, the structure and specific activities of the office of the provost are influenced by academic trends in the University and in the academic community at large.
An example of these changes in academic focus is the shifting emphasis from undergraduate to graduate education, which occurred during the 1950s and 1970s. As early as 1950, a committee on planning had recommended that NU curtail its undergraduate growth and encourage expansion in the graduate programs. Between 1950 and 1975, NU upgraded its existing graduate programs, introduced fourteen new doctoral programs, and added three graduate level professional schools. The University Graduate Council, chaired by the provost or his designee, was formed in 1956 to oversee and coordinate programs. The Council now encompasses three standing committees: the Executive Committee, the New Programs Committee, and the Program Review Committee.
To attract graduate students, NU also needed to expand its research opportunities. In 1978, the University Council on Research and Scholarship was established to develop plans and strategies for improving NU's general intellectual climate and scholarly potential and to move NU toward a new stage in the development of its research and scholarship. The Council on Research and Scholarship suggested establishing a Research and Scholarship Development Fund to provide seed money for research projects, setting up the Distinguished Professor Award to reward the scholarly activities of faculty members, creating the position of Vice Provost for Research and Graduate Studies, and reorganizing and renaming the Office of Research Administration to the Office of Sponsored Research. All of these suggestions were implemented between 1979 and 1981.
While NU improved its research policies, a nationwide elevation in the status of teachers during the early 1950s prompted changes in faculty policies as well. In 1950 and 1951, the Board of Trustees approved tuition benefits for faculty and their immediate family members, a more liberal retirement plan, and the adoption of a standardized tenure policy. NU also began to recognize faculty involvement in professional associations, offer full-time research professorships, and explore the creation of a sabbatical leave program. In addition the faculty began to gain a clearer voice in University matters. The Faculty Senate met for the first time in 1951 and by 1955 took an active role in academic affairs, suggesting the creation of the College of Criminal Justice. In 1975, the bylaws of the Senate were changed to require that the president meet at least quarterly with the Senate Agenda Committee, and annually with the full Senate. This change was designed to foster cooperation between the president's office and the faculty, a collaboration encouraged by new president Kenneth Ryder.
Ryder's tenure, from 1975-1989, saw an increase in faculty involvement at all levels of decision- and policy-making, with faculty participating in committees on university planning, administrative searches, and academic programming. He was also influential in increasing NU's support for the faculty in the form of several new funds and rewards. Among these was the Faculty Development Fund, created in 1987 to support faculty research and teaching initiatives not covered by other University funding.
Ryder's commitment to collegiality included the academic administration of NU. In 1979, he reaffirmed the role of the Academic Council as a vehicle for broader participation in top decision making. At the same time, the Council of Deans was established as a unit of the Academic Council. Made up of the college deans, the provost, and the vice- and associate provosts, the Deans Council advised the larger body on academic matters such as program changes and the review of potential graduates. In 1983 the Academic Council worked in tandem with the Administrative Council, and the two became the University Council in 1984. The Council of Deans continues as an independent body.
The University Undergraduate Curriculum Committee (UUCC) was formed in 1978. It is composed of one faculty representative from each of the colleges, chosen annually by and from the respective curriculum committees, and three academic deans chosen annually by the provost. The provost or his designee serves as chair, voting only in the instance of a tie. The UUCC is responsible for making recommendations to the Faculty Senate on proposed undergraduate curriculum changes.
Ryder presided over many changes concerning the Office of the Provost. During Ryder's tenure, there was a succession of eight provosts or acting provosts and 33 deans or acting deans in the eight basic colleges. Despite the many changes in personnel, much was accomplished during this period. Duties that were once handled exclusively by the Provost were divided between the Provost and Vice Provosts. The positions of Vice Provost for Research and Graduate Studies and Vice Provost for Academic Budget were created in 1979, with Karl Weiss and Philip Crotty filling the two positions.
An increased emphasis on research and scholarship during the Ryder administration was complemented by the high priority placed on instruction. The Ryder years saw an increase in recognition for effective teaching, changes in teacher evaluation and instructional development, and the attempt to place teaching on the same level of respect as research and scholarship. In 1979, the Excellence in Teaching Award was instituted, with a $10,000 annual fund. The award is based solely on classroom performance. In 1982 the Instructional Development Fund (IDF) was established with grants of up to $5,000. The IDF was designed to support faculty members exploring new and/or improved methods of instruction. Also during this time, the Faculty Senate passed resolutions formalizing the status of teaching as coequal to that of research and scholarship in respect to tenure, promotion, and merit raises.
Changes in teacher evaluation and instructional development were also implemented during the Ryder years. In 1983 annual written performance reviews were formally established. The Office of Instructional Development and Evaluation was set up in 1984. Kathryn Luttgens, who served in the provost's office from 1981 to 1989, headed an effort by the Graduate Administrative Committee to improve the quality of graduate teaching assistants. The result of this effort, the Handbook for Teaching Assistants 1987/88, was expanded to a manual for all teachers in 1990.
The President's Commission on the Freshman Experience was also influential in helping to improve the quality of teaching at Northeastern. One issue the Commission was especially concerned with was recruitment and retention of undergraduate students. To address the issue, the Commission suggested the appointment of a vice provost for undergraduate affairs. This position was established with the goals of centralizing academic assistance, and overseeing and coordinating undergraduate curriculum and teaching. In 1988 Professor William Fowler became the first vice provost for undergraduate affairs. The Ryder years also saw an expansion of the remedial programs NUPRIME, Project Ujima, and The Alternative Freshman Year, designed to support educationally disadvantaged students.
The Office of the Provost went through major changes from 1979-89 in terms of personnel and structure. The position of provost was held by Melvin Mark (1979-84), Philip Crotty (Acting Provost, 1984-85), Anthony Penna (1985-88), and Robert Lowndes (Interim Provost, 1988-90). The organization of the Provost's Office became less centralized with the addition of four vice provost positions. The titles, individual responsibilities, and personnel have changed for these positions over the years, but the overall responsibilities of the Office of the Provost have remained the same: faculty affairs, undergraduate affairs, enrollment management, research, graduate education, student relations, and budget management. In 1989, the Office of Sponsored Research, which is overseen by the vice provost for Research and Graduate Education, became the Division of Research Management, and Donald Helmuth was chosen to head the Division.
From 1990-98, Michael Baer was provost. Baer became provost at a time when enrollment was declining and NU was downsizing. Baer's office was responsible for overseeing budgetary cutbacks relating to academic programs, including mid-year budget cuts and hiring freezes. In addition new spending initiatives were generally tabled until NU could put itself back on track. The goal of NU during these difficult years was to decrease in size and increase in quality. Capitalizing on the existing enrollment decline, NU implemented an enrollment cap in fall 1991 and increased its admission requirements to systematically reduce the size of NU's student body. Enrollment dropped from 17,500 full-time undergraduates in 1980 to 11,500 in 1992. In a simultaneous effort to improve the quality of the institution, Baer's office oversaw improvements in both student and faculty quality, the undergraduate curriculum, enrollment management, and an expanded emphasis on research and scholarship.
NU's Strategic Plan was also developed during Baer's tenure, under the direction of Marilyn Cairns. The Strategic Plan outlined the academic direction and shared goals of NU, and led to a Strategic Initiatives Fund administered by the provost. To be eligible for funding, an initiative needed to address the goals of creating a student-centered learning environment, enhancing co-op and academic connections, diversifying the campus, improving student services, creating new or restructured programs, and implementing research or instructional projects.
Another objective of the provost's office during this period was to increase effort in the recruitment and retention of minority faculty members for tenure and tenure track positions. To enable this work the Minority Recruitment and Retention Fund was set up in 1989, with an initial budget of $350,000. The fund was set up for recruiting activities, a visiting scholar's program, and a research support program. The research support program was an extension of the already existing Minority Support Fund which served as a complement to the general Faculty Development Fund. Evidence of this effort can be seen in the difference in the number of African American and Latino tenure and tenure track faculty members from 1987 to 1990. In 1987 there were 29 African American and Latino faculty members, and in 1990 this number grew to 46. Administration of faculty affairs during Baer's tenure was handled by Executive Vice Provost Daryl Hellman.
Another project started during the early 1990's was ACE (Academic Common Experience), which was set up to foster shared educational goals among the different undergraduate programs. The ACE program was started with a $257,000 federal grant. Co-chaired by Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Andrea Leskes, ACE was charged with defining NU's educational philosophy and its implications for undergraduate education.
From 1998-2002, former Law School dean David Hall was provost. During his tenure, he focused his efforts on Practice-Oriented Education, a concept that combined research, cooperative education, traditional classroom formats, experiential learning and service learning. He also was heavily involved in restructuring the COOP program, the school-wide conversion to semesters and President Freeland's plan to be a U.S. News Top 100 school. Hall was also responsible for the school-wide reaccreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges that begun under Baer, which involved every department and college creating unit plans. Following student protest and conversation on campus surrounding diversity at Northeastern, the position of Vice Provost for Academic Opportunity was created, a role initially filled by Music Professor Leonard Brown.
Dr. Ahmed T. Abdelal was appointed provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at Northeastern University in August 2002, and held that position along with a tenured faculty position in the biology department, until 2008. Dr. Abdelal received his B.Sc. from Cairo University and his Ph.D. from the University of California at Davis. During his years as Northeastern's provost, Abdelal led major initiatives including the switch to a semester calendar and the development of a 5-year, $75 million Academic Investment Plan, the largest academic initiative in the university's history at the time. He also was focused on improving Northeastern's position and rank, and invested a good amount into moving the university higher on lists of national rankings.