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  • Writer's picturePatricia Salkin

Lawyer Provosts Increasingly Appointed as Campus Presidents

Updated: Dec 31, 2022










Serving as a provost is often a pathway to the presidency for those interested, yet the data shows that most lawyer presidents did not previously serve as provosts or chief academic officers. Although there is little published research about the backgrounds of provosts, it is fair to state that the typical provost does not possess a JD degree. A 2010 Study of Chief Academic Officers of Independent Colleges and Universities published by the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) indicated that among provosts (of chief academic officers) at four-year colleges and universities, at least 90% indicated that they held a terminal degree. The study reported that 86% of chief academic officers at independent institutions had earned a PhD and 10% had earned an EdD. Of the remaining 4%, the survey reported the provosts possessed theology degrees, JDs (less than 1%) and MDs.


Through an examination of the backgrounds of lawyer presidents in May it Please the Campus: Lawyers Leading Higher Education (Touro University Press 2022), data about how many of these individuals had previously served as [law] professors, [law] deans, and provosts is discussed. Data collected for the 2017 American College President Study published by the American Council on Education (ACE) revealed that of the number of lawyer presidents in for the 2017 survey year, roughly 28% had previously served as a chief academic officer or provost/dean/other senior executive in academic affairs. This percentage is lower than what was reported in the 2002 survey which showed 34% had had previous chief academic officer or provost/dean/other academic affairs experience.


The new study shares that from the 1940s to present, of the provosts with JDs, 51 of them have been appointed to 68 presidencies. The 1940s and 1950s saw the appointment of just 1 lawyer provost to the campus C-Suite – Albert C. Jacobs. Jacobs was first appointed as Chancellor at the University of Colorado (Denver) in 1949 where he stayed until 1953 when he was appointed as president of Trinity College. Two more lawyer provosts were appointed as presidents in the 1960s – Kingman Brewster at Yale in 1963 and Edward H. Levi at the University of Chicago in 1968.


Two more were appointed in the 1970s and then the number started to climb with 5 in the 1980s, 9 in the 1990s, 12 in the 2000s and 28 in the 2010s. So far, only two years in to the 2020s, with 8 appointments of lawyer provosts to the presidency, by extrapolation we might expect the number to hit 40 by the end of the decade. In 2022 the following four lawyer presidents had previously served as a provost - Jennifer Collins (Rhodes College; former vice provost); Elizabeth Magill (University of Pennsylvania); Wendell Pritchett (Interim President at University of Pennsylvania); and Darren Reisberg (Hartwick College; former deputy provost).


For a listing of all known lawyer provosts who were appointed to lead a campus, see the ACAO blog here: Lawyer Provosts Increasingly Appointed as Campus Presidents (acao.org)

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