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Provost (through O. Fr prevost, mod prévôt, Lat pracpositus, set over, from praeponere, to place in front), a title attached to various ecclesiastical and secular offices.

Early uses and origins of word

In ecclesiastical usage the word praepositus was at first applied by the Church fathers to any ecclesiastical ruler or dignitary. It early, however, gained a more specific sense as applied to the official next in dignity to the abbot of a monastery, or to the superior of a single cell. Thus in the rule of St Benedict the provost (praepositus) is the superior of the monastery immediately subordinate to the abbot, the dean (decanus) being associated with him. From the Benedictine rule this arrangement was taken over by Chrodegang of Metz when he introduced the monastic organization of cathedral chapters. In these the provostship (praepositura) was normally held by the archdeacon, while the office of dean fell to the archpriest. In many cathedrals the temporal duties of the archdeacons made it impossible for them to fulfil those of the provostship, and the headship of the chapter thus fell to the dean.

In England the title "provost" has thus everywhere given way to that of "dean"; in Germany, on the Other hand, "Probst" is still the style of the heads of certain chapters. The title has also been preserved in certain dioceses of the German Evangelical Church as the equivalent of Superintendent, and both the Roman Catholic and Protestant chaplainsgeneral of the forces have sometimes, e.g. as was the case in Prussia, the title Feldprobst. The heads of Augustinian and Dominican friaries are termed "provost or prior" (praepositus vel prior), those of Cistercian monasteries "provost or warden." (praepositus vel custos). Finally the name praepositus was sometimes used for the secular advocatus of a monastery. With the ecclesiastical use of the title is connected its English application to the heads of certain colleges; "provost" is still the style of the principals of Queen's, Oriel and Worcester Colleges at Oxford, of King's College at Cambridge, of Trinity College at Dublin and of Eton College.

As a secular title praepositus is also very old; we need only instance the praepositus sacri cubiculi of the late Roman Empire, and the praepositus palatii of the Carolingian court. The important developments of the title in France are dealt with below. From France the title found its way into Scotland, where it survives in the style (provost) of the principal magistrates of the royal boroughs ("lord provost" in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Perth and Dundee), and into England, where it is applied to certain officers charged with the maiiitenance of military discipline. A provost-marshal is an officer of the army appointed when troops are on service abroad for the prompt repression of all offences. He may at any time arrest and detain for trial persons subject to military law committing offences, and may also carry into execution any punishments to be inflicted in pursuance of a court martial (Army Act 1881, § 74). A provost-sergeant is an officer responsible for the maintenance of order when soldiers are in the United Kingdom. A provostsergeant may be either garrison or regimental, and he has under his superintendence the garrison or regimental police.

The Provost in France

The word prévôt (provost) in old French law had many applications. In conformity with its etymology (praepositus) it could be applied to any person placed at the head of a branch of the public service, a position which, according to the old principles, habitually carried with it a right of jurisdiction. It is thus that there was at Paris the "provost of Paris," who was a royal judge, and the "provost of the merchants" (prévôt des marchands), the head of the Paris municipality. There were besides--to mention only the principal provosts--the "provosts of the marshals of France" (prévôts des marichaux de France), of whom more below; the "provost of the royal palace" (prévôt de l'hôtel du roi) or "grand provost of France" (grand prévôt de France), and the "provost general" (prévôt général) or "grand provost of the mint" (grand prévôt des monnaies). But the most important and best known provosts, who formed part of a general and comprehensive organization, were the "royal provosts" (prévôts royaux), the lower category of the royal judges. It must be borne in mind, however, that the magistrates belonging to the inferior category of royal judges (juges subalternes) had different designations in many parts of France. In Normandy and Burgundy they were called châtelains, and elsewhere--especially in the south--viguiers. These were titles which had established themselves in the great fiefs before their reunion with the Crown and had survived this. The royal provosts, on the other hand, were a creation of the Capetian monarchy.

The date of this creation is uncertain, but was without doubt some time in the 11th century. The provosts replaced the viscounts wherever the viscounty had not become a fief, and it is possible that in creating them the Crown was imitating the ecclesiastical organization in which the provost figured, notably in the chapters. The royal provosts had at first a double character. In the first place they fulfilled all the functions which answered locally to the royal power. They collected all the revenues of the domain and all the taxes and dues payable to the king within the limits of their jurisdiction. Doubtless, too, they had certain military functions, being charged with the duty of calling out certain contingents for the royal service; there survived until the end of the ancien régime certain military provosts prevots d'épée (provosts of the sword) who were replaced in the administration of justice by a lieutenant. Finally, the provosts administered justice, though certainly their competence in this matter was restricted. They had no jurisdiction over noblemen, or over feudal tenants (hommes de fief) ,who claimed the jurisdiction of the court of their over-lord, where they were judged by their peers--the other vassals of the same lord. Neither had they jurisdiction over the open country, the pies pays, where this belonged to local seigneurs; and even in the towns over which they were set their jurisdiction was often limited by that of the municipal courts established for the benefit of the burgesses. The second characteristic of the old provosts was that their office was farmed for a limited time to the highest bidder. It was simply an application of the system of farming the taxes. The provost thus received the speculative right to collect the revenues of the royal domain in the district under his jurisdiction; this was his principal concern, and his judicial functions were merely accessory. By these short appointments the Crown guaranteed itself against another dan.gçr: the possible conversion by the functionary of the function into a property. Very early, however, certain provostships were bestowed en garde, i.e. the provost had to account to the king for all he collected. The prevotes en ferme were naturally a source of abuses and oppression, the former seeking to make the west of the concession he had bought. Naturally, too, the people complained. From Joinville we learn how under St Louis the provostship of Paris became a prévéte en garde. At the death of Louis XI the prevétes en ferme were still numerous and provoked a remonstrance from the States-general of 1484. Their suppression was promised by Charles VIII in 1493, but they are again referred to in the grande ordonnance of 1498. They disappeared in the 16th century, by which time the provosts become regular officials, their office being purchasable.

Other transformations had previously taken place. The creation of the royal baillis reduced the provosts to a subaltern rank. Each bailli had in his district a certain number of provosts, who became his inferiors in the official hierarchy. When appeals were instituted (and this was one of the earliest instances of their introduction) the provost, the sphere of whose competency was limited, was subject to an appeal to the bailli, though his judgment had hitherto been without appeal. Moreover, in the 14th century they had ceased to collect the revenues of the royal domain, except where the prévôté was en ferme, and royal collectors (receveurs royaux) had been appointed for this purpose. The summoning of the feudal contingents, the ban and arrière-ban, had passed into the hands of the baillis. Thus the provosts were left for their sole function as inferior judges for non-nobles, the appeals from their sentences going to the baillis, who also had jurisdiction in the first instance over actions brought against nobles and in cases reserved for the crown judges (cas royaux). This corresponded to a principle which had also applied in the chief feudal Courts in the 13th and 14th centuries, where a distinction was made between judicial acts which could be performed en prévété, and those which had to be performed in a solemn assize (assise); this did not, however, always imply the existence of a superior and an inferior official, a provost and a bailli.

The provost in the exercise of his legal functiops sat alone as judge, and he alone exercised the judicial authority at his tribunal; but he had to consult with certain lawyers (avocats or procureurs) chosen by himself, whom, to use the technical phrase, he "summoned to his council" (appelail a son conseil). In 1578 official counsellors (conseillers-magistrats) were created, but were suppressed by the ordonnance of Blois of 1579. The office was restored in 1609 by a simple decree of the royal council, but it was opposed by the parlements, and it seems to have been conferred in but few cases.

The "provosts of the marshals of France," mentioned above, were non-legal officials (offlciers de Ia robe courte) forming part of the body of the maréchaussée which was under the ancien régime what the gendarmerie was after the Revolution. Their original function was to judge offences committed by persons following the army, but in the course of the 14th and 15th centuries they acquired the right of judging certain crimes and misdemeanours, by whomsoever committed. They became stationary, with fixed spheres of authority, and the offences falling within their competency came to be called cas prévôtaux. These were, the worst crimes of violence, and all crimes and misdemeanours committed by old offenders (repris de justice), who were familiarly known as the gibier des prévôts des maréchaux (gaol-birds). Theirs was really a kind of military jurisdiction, from which there was no appeal; but the provost was bound to associate with himself a certain number of ordinary judges or graduates in law. The provost of the marshals did not himself judge what was a cas prévótal; this had in each case to be decided by the nearest bailliage or presidial court. The presidial judges also dealt with cas prévôtaux in concurrence with the provosts of the marshals.

Source: 1911 EB

Provost of a University or College (United States and Canada)

Provost is the title of a senior administrator at many institutions of higher education in the United States and Canada. In most North American research universities and independent colleges, the provost is generally the chief academic officer. The incumbent is responsible to the institution's chief executive officer (variously called president, chancellor, or rector) and governing board or boards (variously called the board of trustees, the broad of regents, or the corporation, etc.) for oversight of all educational affairs and activities, including research and academic personnel. The deans of a university's various schools, colleges, or faculties, generally report to the provost or report jointly to the chief executive officer and the provost. Various interdisciplinary units and academic support functions, such as libraries, student services, admissions, academic facilities, and information technology, generally fall within a provost's administrative purview. Finally, provosts often receive staff support or delegate line responsibility for certain administrative functions to one or more subordinates variously called "assistant provost," "associate provost," "vice provost," or "deputy provost."

The specific duties and areas of responsibility for a provost vary from institution to institution. Invariably, provosts are drawn from the tenured faculty of the institution or the from among a pool of professional administrators (with academic credentials) at other institutions. In many, although not all, public and private North American universities and colleges, the provost (or functional equivalent) is the second-ranking officer in the administrative hierarchy. Very often, the provost serves as acting chief executive officer during a vacancy in that office or when the incumbent is absent from campus for prolonged periods. In these institutions, the title of provost is often combined with those of "senior vice president," "executive vice president," "executive vice chancellor," or the like, to denote that officer's high standing.

Since the title provost rarely comes into use outside of higher education, some officers also carry a more descriptive functional title such as "academic vice president," "vice president for academic affairs," "dean of the faculties," or "vice president for education." At independent liberal arts colleges, the chief academic officer carries the title of provost or "dean of the college."

There are other uses of the term provost in American higher education. At some multi-campus (generally state-run) universities, provost may be the title held by the head of branch campus, for example, the provosts of the Newark and Camden campuses of Rutgers University in New Jersey. Sometimes the chief academic or medical officer of a university-affiliated medical center holds the title of provost. In some universities, the chief administrative officer of large academic division may hold a provostial title. Finally, in some colleges and universities, the title of provost (and the function of deputy to the president or chancellor) may be separate from the function of chief academic officer.

The first use of the title provost in American and Canadian higher education is unclear. At the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University, the title provost dates to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, respectively. At the University of Pennsylvania, the administrative head of the university was titled provost until the 1930s, when the Board of Trustees created a separate office of president and redesignated the provost as chief academic officer and subordinate to the new presidency. At Columbia University, the Board of Trustees established the office of provost in 1811, only to abolish it five years later. The Trustees and the president of the university restablished the office of provost in 1912. Although the precise title of the office has changed over time, the responsibility as Columbia's chief academic officer has remained constant.

Other North American universities and colleges created provostships during and after World War II when dramatic increases undergraduate enrollments (due to the GI Bill) and the increased complexity of higher education administration, led many chief executive officers to adopt a more corporate governing structure. By the 1960s, most of the other Ivy League institutions (Yale, Princeton, Cornell, and Brown) had provosts (or equivalents), as did other private research universities such as the University of Chicago, Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgetown University, and Duke University.

At Harvard University, the office of provost has had two distinct incarnations. The office's first incarnation was during World War II and the immediate postwar era. James Bryant Conant, the president of the university from 1933 to 1953, asked the Harvard Corporation (the more senior of the two governing boards) to create the office of provost in October 1945, at time when he (Conant) spent a great deal of time in Washington, D.C. as chairman of the National Defense Research Committee. Conant appointed historian Paul Buck, the dean of the Faculty of Arts of Sciences (FAS), to concurrently serve as provost. (The original legislation required that the provost be concurrently dean of FAS.) As provost and dean, Buck had oversight of FAS (which includes Harvard College, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the Extension School, the Summer School, and what is now called the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences) and its affiliated laboratories, research centers, and musuems. However, he had no authority over Harvard's professional schools (at that time, the Divinity School, the Law School, the Faculty of Medicine, the School of Public Health, and the Graduate Schools of Business Administration, Design, Education, and Public Administration). The provost's office was eliminated when Conant retired from Harvard's presidency in 1953. During the presidencies of Nathan Marsh Pusey (1953-1971) and Derek C. Bok (1971-1993), the deans of Harvard's nine faculties reported directly to the president, with the dean of FAS being primus inter pares . The second incarnation began in 1993, when then-Harvard President Neil Rudenstine asked the Corporation to recreate the provostship as a second university-wide academic officer other than the president. A section of Harvard's 1997 Re-accreditation Report for the New England Commission of Colleges and Schools reads: "The Provost at Harvard acts as an extension of the President. He is the second academic officer, after the President, having purview of the entire University. The Provost has special responsibility for fostering intellectual interactions across the University, including the five Interfaculty Initiatives (environment, ethics and the professions, schooling and children, mind/brain/behavior, and health policy). The Provost also acts to help improve the quality and efficiency of central services organized at Harvard under the aegis of the Vice Presidents."

Related terms

chancellor - college - curriculum - dean - faculty - graduate student president - professor - tenure - trustee - vice president