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“So, [polite pause] what do you actually do?” is a very common follow-up question when someone learns that I am a provost. The question occurs frequently enough that I try to find new ways to answer it. For students, I usually quip, “I am a big boss, but not the final boss.” I am thankful to Perry Glanzer for giving me another way to jokingly admit, “I attempt to burden and distract faculty with most of my e-mail communications.”1

Admittedly, answering the question of what a provost does has some challenges. As Larry A. Nielson wrote in his humorous, autobiographical, Provost, the administrative position is probably the most elusive and generally vague leadership role in higher education.2 However, more challenging is the actual work to leverage with humility the incredible opportunity to make lasting, positive contributions to my institution.

In this post, I want to share some of the work this fledgling administrator is doing as a quasi-response to Glanzer’s, Christ Animated Administration? In brief, Glanzer posited five reasons why we administrators fail to build accountability structures that work and help promote what he wrote is, “one of the most important ends of their work.” I find his words helpful as I work out what it means to be and to do as a provost.

I only recently read his post, almost two years after its publishing. I happily came across his words after having been at work since 2019 trying to create positive change aligned with our Christian mission at my institution. I did have that, “I wish I had seen this earlier!” moment of realization. What follows is a brief, self-reflective account of finding one’s way to being a provost, avoiding imposter syndrome along the way, and doing something of purpose, I hope, for the Kingdom of God with the opportunity I have.

As a new provost, I wanted to identify two or three primary areas of focus for my service. These took some time to percolate above the day-to-day noise of administration. One positive aspect during the response to the pandemic was more time. Uninterrupted solitude to read and think. Inspired by reading Desiring the Kingdom by James K. A. Smith,3 I became particularly interested in the idea of habit and ritual as integral to our formation of identity. I also felt compelled to reconsider Christian education anew. Both led me to consider that there are two principal players identified in my university’s mission statement, namely, Christian educators and students. Thus, I settled on my contributive work as provost to build Christian formative experiences for faculty and consequently for students.

While all that was well and good, I was still left with the nagging duty of “doing” something. So, as is the fashion, I started with a quick Google search, “What does a provost do?”

I kid. Although I did begin with some initial reading of articles, books, and conference attendance (very provost-worthy type of activities), the very beginning of the work started with a series of conversations with my president. Our discussions centered around the university’s mission and how to give expression to that mission faithfully as Christian academics. Eventually, our conversations, and my subsequent conversations with others on faculty, and some new friends at other institutions led to a formulation of the question, “What does it look like to orient our academic work within a Christian anthropology?”

I reframed this question into a goal for the first year of the University’s five-year strategic plan. For the last two years as an outworking of this strategic plan, I have contemplated this question individually; with key faculty, whom I trust for their intellect, wisdom, and honesty; with the Board of Trustees; and with the faculty at large. Framing my administrative work under this critical question and strategic plan goal helps me to rethink, I hope, “the whole accountability and incentive structure,” that Glanzer identifies.

The other benefit of framing this initiative as a question is that it invited participation from others who are more knowledgeable than I. Perhaps this participation is a result of my initial reservation to the role of provost, but by Providence, I consulted with others who are, as Glanzer writes, “competent regarding how to implement the Christian mission in specific ways.” This process involved trusted faculty at my institution, and new friends met along the way.

As I learned, I tried to find ways to invite the faculty to learn with me. I recall that earlier in my career my institution had some conversations and renewed energy in exploring the distinctives our Christian faith brought to our mission; however, significant time and leadership changes let these matters wane. Therefore, in the summer of 2021—proceeding with the fall launch of our strategic plan—I wrote and disseminated a white paper to faculty in preparation of the development workshop planned for that fall semester. The goal of this paper was to provide a framework for Christian education within the landscape of American higher education. I wanted to “prime the pump” as it were for the Fall Faculty Workshop to follow.

That first fall, I dedicated resources to bringing in Dr. Hal. L. Poe, Charles Colson Professor of Faith & Culture at Union University, and author of Christianity in the Academy. As keynote, Poe shared examples of his work in the area and its application across a variety of disciplines. That same fall, all faculty were invited (read compulsory) to attend a series of luncheons hosted by the provost. At these meetings, a respected faculty colleague with considerable thinking and work in Christian higher education, Dr. Brian Austin, shared personal insights and a summary of Author Holmes’s, The Idea of a Christian College.4

These luncheons allowed faculty to explore how they might make connections to our Christian mission within their academic disciplines by answering a series of guided questions in discussion with each other. They also provided an opportunity for faculty feedback through an anonymous survey to capture their thoughts, questions, and possible concerns. The following fall, the second year of the strategic plan, Dr. Austin provided a second presentation at the Fall Faculty Workshop and shared the results of that survey.

During the two academic years since 2021, with help from others, I began to lay the foundation for the development of a Center for Teaching and Learning. This center, also a goal in the strategic plan, would be the dynamic hub to address the first area of focus, faculty on-boarding and development. The Center launched this fall with several initiatives 1) update course evaluations, 2) develop a faculty mentoring process for new faculty, and 3) pedagogy development for existing faculty based on David I. Smith’s On Christian Teaching,5 which was purchased for all faculty this year. All these initiatives are rethinking faculty development through the lens of a Christian anthropology.

Glanzer is correct that proper “incentive structures that reward student, staff, and faculty development regarding the Christian mission” are needed. To that end, I am working to allocate resources to afford a course release for new full-time faculty in their first semester. To do so demonstrates university commitment and expectation to fully participate in the faculty mentoring program through the Center. Correspondingly, I want to give a course release or equivalent stipend to the experienced faculty who serve as mentors. This initiative is still in the planning stages. Whatever the final incentive is, it must be real and meaningful.

Concomitant to the Center for Teaching, with its focus on faculty development and on-boarding, I am working to develop a Center for Student Engagement and Vocation. This Center will engage students and serve as a complement to the Center for Teaching and Learning. As the second principal player in our mission, I am concerned that learning in the classroom tends to be passive. When I have opportunity to speak with students, few seem to speak of their choice of major or potential career with any connection to their Christian faith. Or even more fundamentally, students today seem to take a passive role allowing advisors, coaches, and even parents to address and navigate challenges for them. Although the Center has not launched, work has begun to reframe student advising and mentoring for choice of major through a lens of vocation and calling and rethinking how we can exhort students to own their education. There is still work to do on these fronts.

In closing, the work is far from complete and even further from ideal. I am generally more process-oriented in my approach to leadership and team-focused. I think some of the initial success has been found in recruiting key faculty whom I trust to share nascent ideas before sharing campus wide. I have invited these faculty to read the books I am reading. Nearly two years into the work, I become encouraged when other faculty have begun to ask me what I am reading on this theme. I am also trying to push back against those distractions that can consume an administrator which includes, more than I like, “addressing and minimizing human depravity.”6 Biblical metaphors are often agricultural. I am learning that most of what I do as a provost for the Christian mission is plant seeds and to water them.


  1. Perry L. Glanzer, “Christ Animated Administration? Administrative Accountability for the Christian Mission,” Christ Animating Learning Blog, Christian Scholar’s Review, December 2, 2021,
  2. Larry A. Nielson, Provost: Experiences, Reflections, and Advance from a Former “Number Two” on Campus(Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC, 2013).
  3. James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009).
  4. Arthur F. Holmes, The Idea of a Christian College (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987).
  5. David I. Smith, On Christian Teaching: Practicing Faith in the Classroom (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2018).
  6. Perry L. Glanzer, “Christ Animated Administration? Administrative Accountability for the Christian Mission,” Christ Animating Learning Blog, Christian Scholar’s Review, December 2, 2021,

Jeremy J. Buckner

Jeremy J. Buckner is Provost and Professor of Music at Carson-Newman University.