Q&A with New Provost Dr. John Hoffman
After a national search, Dr. John Hoffman was named provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, a position he assumed in June 2016. Since joining Arcadia’s faculty as an adjunct professor in 1993, Dr. Hoffman has also served as associate provost for Accreditation, Assessment, and Research, founding dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, founding dean of Arcadia’s College of Business, Health, and Sciences, and dean of Graduate Studies.
Here, Dr. Hoffman talks to Arcadia magazine about his experiences as a professor and administrator, his commitment to students, and his vision for future academic programs.
Q. How does it feel to assume the role of provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Arcadia University?
A. I am excited to become provost. I joined the faculty in the fall of 1993 as an adjunct professor teaching a biology course in histology two nights and labs one afternoon a week. I was immediately impressed by the dedication of the students and the opportunities for them to work individually with faculty members. It was exactly the type of place where I wanted to work. After advancing through the faculty ranks and serving as department chair and dean, I feel that I understand the Arcadia legacy and am committed to ensuring that future generations of Arcadia students are able to have the same types of experiences.
Q. Some people may not realize the role a provost plays for a university. What exactly does a provost do?
A. As chief academic officer, the provost is responsible for creating and implementing the University’s academic vision. The provost works with deans to lead faculty in the colleges and schools to continue to improve the educational experiences and opportunities for our students. At Arcadia, the provost is also responsible for other academic units such as the Landman Library, Office of International Affairs, and the Learning Resource Network. The provost also serves on the President’s Cabinet to represent the University’s academic programs.
Q. You served as founding dean of both the College of Business, Health, and Sciences and the College of Arts and Sciences. How will this new role differ from those?
A. In many ways the role of the provost is similar to that of the college deans. The most significant difference is that, instead of being responsible for a group of departments, I get the opportunity to work with everyone across the University. As founding dean I needed to work with colleagues to create the structure to lead and support the newly formed colleges. Although the role is a well-defined and established position, the Provost needs to continually review programs to ensure the University continues to provide a quality educational experience for our students in a world that is rapidly changing. I wrote my undergraduate senior thesis on a Commodore 64 computer and used a phone tethered to the wall by a cord. Today my cell phone has more computing power than the machines I used to analyze my doctoral research. The technologies available to our current students are amazing, and it is incredible to imagine the innovations that they will be able to use in the future.
Q. Talk a bit about the changes you encountered as you transitioned from a professor who spent most of his time in the classroom and researching to a dean and, now, provost.
A. As faculty member, dean, and, now, provost, I remain committed to promoting the learning environment for our students. When I began as a faculty member in the Biology department, I was able to pursue teaching and research within my areas of expertise—primarily biomedical sciences such as neurobiology and histology. As I transitioned into the role of dean and provost, I learned about the uniqueness and perspectives of a much wider range of disciplines. My duties have shifted from interacting with my students on a daily basis in the classroom and laboratory to making sure that all of our faculty and students are able to succeed in their academic pursuits.
Q. Arcadia University has a long history and a deep mission with global education. How does global education go beyond simply study abroad?
A. My personal view of global education is that stepping outside of your comfort zone and experiencing the world from a different perspective has a greater impact on an individual than the location where the activity occurs. I think it is important that our curriculum and programs place an emphasis on providing a range of opportunities for our undergraduate and graduate students, including the pro bono clinical work done by our Physical Therapy and Physician Assistant students, our Alternative Spring Break projects, Preview, short-term Global Field Study travel courses, and our traditional semester-long study abroad experiences.
Q. What do you see as the future of higher education?
A. The future of higher education is and will be dealing with the major challenge of providing an affordable education while responding to the economic situations of our students and the increased regulatory constraints being placed on higher education. Many of our students finance their college expenses through scholarships and loans, so we need to focus on providing a quality educational experience within an affordable range for our students.
Q. How important is it to design a curriculum and collegiate experience that is modern enough to prepare students for the challenges they will face as graduates yet still steeped in the traditional elements of higher education?
A. Arcadia University has a strong history of leading curricular innovation while honoring the proud legacy of the liberal arts tradition established by Beaver College. We were leaders in the “Writing Across the Curriculum” in the mid-’70s and continue to promote the importance of writing in our current undergraduate curriculum. We remain committed to providing students with a breadth of knowledge across a wide range of topics while providing them with a depth of skills and experiences within their chosen major. This has been, and will continue to be, an important educational approach to prepare students to be successful and engaged throughout their lifetimes.