9 Reasons Why Your Next Provost Should Be a CTL Director


Your institutions next provost should be recruited from the pool of current center for teaching and learning (CTL) directors. Full disclosure, I am not a CTL director (or aspire to be one), and therefore I’m making this argument about other people. (Maybe you).

Here are 9 reasons why your next provost should come from the ranks of CTL directors.

#1- Teaching and Learning Is What Colleges and Universities Do:

While the focus on research or sports or campus-life may vary across institutions, what is constant is that all colleges and universities prioritize (at least rhetorically) teaching and learning. Traditionally, provosts are drawn from the ranks of those faculty with the highest research productivity and the longest tenures in academic administrative leadership roles. The clarity that teaching and learning is at the center of institutional missions should lead schools to recruit chief academic officers with expertise and scholarship track-records in teaching and learning. CTL directors have the best idea of any academic campus leader how institutions should be led and organized to advance learning.

#2 – Institutional Resilience and Instructional Continuity:

What COVID-19 has strikingly revealed, however, is that teaching and learning is at the core of all universities. When the pandemic hit, the entirety of each institution’s focus was necessarily directed near exclusively on academic continuity. The near-instantaneous and universal pivot from residential to remote teaching placed student learning at the very center of institutional priorities. CTLs have been in the middle of these academic continuity initiatives.

#3 – The Alignment of Institutional Structures to Learning Science:

The arc of postsecondary evolution will follow the integration of institutional structures to learning science. The future will see universities redesigning their operations and practices based on the research of how people learn. This alignment of learning science and educational practice may feel either aspirational or naive, depending on one’s context and background. But it will happen. CTL leaders are both creators of knowledge around teaching and learning and students of higher education. These CTL leaders are optimally positioned to drive learning science into the center of campus conversations and strategies around organizational change.

#4 – The Integrated CTL Model and Institutional Leadership:

The CTL is becoming integrated. Previously disparate elements related to teaching and learning, which have been organizational separate in the past, are coming together under newly organized CTLs. The traditional educational developer within a CTL is being joined by academic technologists, online education leaders, tutoring and coaching professionals, and media and digital creators. CTLs are becoming places of applied scholarship and cross-institutional leadership. CTL directors now connect with (and often lead) campus activities that support professors in all elements of teaching and learning. They will bring that integrated knowledge of learning, technology, scholarship, and support to the role of provost.

#5 – The Prioritization of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion:

Across CTLs, and within the CTL community of practices, issues of diversity and equity and inclusion constitute both areas of emphasis and a core set of values. CTL leaders have been leading campus efforts on diversity, equity, and inclusion for many years. CTLs have long promoted goals such as anti-racist pedagogies, awareness of implicit bias, and classroom techniques for inclusivity. Compared to other core university departments and areas, CTLs have a strong track record of achieving gender diversity. As diversity, equity, and inclusion become critical strategic goals of institutions – CTL directors are well-placed to lead these efforts.

#6 – Relationships with Faculty Colleagues:

CTLs straddle the border between academic and administrative campus units. They are made up of (mostly) non-faculty educators who are allies and supporters of teaching faculty. Perhaps only the academic library can rival the CTL in terms of faculty goodwill. The pandemic has dramatically increased the range of relationships that CTLs have with professors. At most every school, the CTL was integral in providing faculty with training and support in the move from residential to remote learning. Professors believe that CTLs are places of support and assistance, and affection will be useful to any CTL director moving into the role of provost.

#7: Experience Leading Institutional Change Initiatives:

CTLs have a history of being involved in, and more recently leading, institutional change initiatives. This trend has grown with the move to create integrated CTLs at many campuses. Of course, the most prominent institutional change initiative that CTLs have recently led has been the COVID-19 necessitated pivot to remote learning. Before the pandemic, many CTLs played roles in institutional efforts such as the experimentation with open online learning, the development of undergraduate learning fellow initiatives, and the investment to redesign large introductory (gateway) classes. As active and experiential learning has shifted into institution-wide priorities, these activities have often been directed (or at least coordinated with) the core CTL missions of programming and consulting. A provost with experience running a CTL will bring knowledge and experience of many cross-campus change initiatives to the job.

#8: The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning:

While teaching and learning is at the core of every college and university, research is prioritized by many. CTL directors often play the roles of applied scholars. Their research area is in the domain of the scholarship of teaching and learning. They understand the constraints and pressures of both scholars and teachers and are personally experienced in integrating both domains.

#9: The Strategic Shift to Blended and Online Learning:

Residential education will come back, but online education will never again be a fringe activity of the institution. For CTL directors, and particularly those leading integrated CTLs, online learning has been part of the core work for many years. CTL directors understand that online learning, as well as all sorts of digital learning activities, are not goals but means. Online learning is a tool (or a technique) that enables learners and educators to meet their goals. Those goals may involve academic continuity (as during the pandemic) or the ability to combine working and learning. The line between residential and online learning will become ever-more blurry in the years after COVID-19. CTL directors are well-positioned to help navigate their institutions through this transition.

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