Provost plans to teach once again

Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost John Thornell cuts the grand-opening ribbon for ThinkSpace with Quality Enhancement Program Director Lisa Keys-Mathews March 17. One of Thornell’s favorite aspects of the provost job is attending ceremonies on campus, he said.

News Editor Kaitlyn Davis

Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs John Thornell will step down from his position as provost and back into his former position as history professor in fall 2017.

“I am in my eighth year as provost at UNA, and that seems long enough,” Thornell said in an email. “Administration tends to pull you away from working with students, and I wanted the opportunity to re-establish that connection before I retire.”

Thornell will teach for one year before retiring, he said.

This move is a natural one, as Thornell began his UNA career as a professor, said President Kenneth Kitts in an email.

“It is typical for provosts to want to return to the teaching ranks at some point, as that is what drew them to the profession in the first place,” Kitts said.

Thornell said he enjoys the challenges teaching presents, as well as seeing students succeed.

“There are two elements of teaching I especially value,” he said. “One is the confidence students gain as they experience academic success under the direction of a good teacher. The other is the rigor and effort made on behalf of class preparation. I enjoy the reading and research required to be effective in the classroom.”

While Thornell said teaching offers certain gratifications, being the provost is rewarding as well.

“My favorite part of being provost is working with and trying to help faculty,” he said. “To see the wonderful things they accomplish on behalf of our students is amazing.”

A worthwhile aspect of the provost position is participating in events that celebrate campus triumph like commencement and award ceremonies, he said.

But the perks of the provost position do not come without its pressures.

“The most stressful part of the job of provost is trying to find adequate funding for faculty and academic needs,” Thornell said. “Our faculty participates in a multitude of activities outside the classroom for which funding isn’t available, and one of my jobs is to find ways to support those efforts.”

Recently, Thornell helped secure funding for UNA’s Pride of Dixie Marching Band to perform at the Bands of America Grand National Championships in Indianapolis, he said.

“The funding to support that travel isn’t in their regular budget, so our office assisted with that effort,” Thornell said.

Being provost is challenging because oftentimes there are not enough resources to meet the needs of faculty, he said.

Thornell met those challenges successfully, Kitts said.

“Dr. Thornell has established an excellent rapport with the faculty and has presided over a period of significant growth in the quantity and quality of our academic programs,” Kitts said.

“He has an excellent understanding of key issues in higher education. I appreciate Dr. Thornell’s many contributions to the University of North Alabama.”

Although Thornell made an outstanding provost and vice president of academic affairs, it is time to look for another. The new hire will fill both roles, as Thornell did, Kitts said.

Discussions on finding a new provost have just begun, but Kitts said he has several criteria in mind for the next provost.

“I will be looking for a leader who can build on the many good things in place at UNA,” Kitts said. “While we are proud of our current array of academic programs, we understand that higher education is a very competitive endeavor and (we) need to be looking for ways to position ourselves for future success.”

Freshman Ashtan Hicks said she would like to see someone who excels at working with others.

“(The provost should be) somebody who is willing to work with other people and (someone who) knows what’s best for everyone,” Hicks said.

Trustworthiness and honesty are two key characteristics the next provost should have, said Senior Seth Tatum.

Kitts said he hopes to bring potential provosts to campus in the spring.

“We hope to search this fall with the goal of bringing finalists to campus in the spring semester,” he said. “Ideally, the new provost would be identified and ready to start work next summer.”

The provost position is essential, and students should understand the importance of it, Kitts said.

“The provost is the second in line of authority at the university and is expected to stand in for the president as needed and to help represent the university at state and national meetings,” Kitts said.