New Provost arrives on campus, starts counting students

August 30, 2012

On Apr. 10, Georgetown announced the appointment of Dr. Robert Groves to succeed Dr. James J. O’Donnell as provost.  With the beginning of the new academic year, Dr. Groves has taken over the post, greeting new students at Convocation and settling into his new digs on the Hilltop.

The provost is the chief academic officer of the University, responsible for coordinating the academics of each school, arranging all convocations and commencements, and supervising the admission and scholarship processes, among other duties. Due to the heft of the position, finding an appropriate replacement for O’Donnell meant an extensive, nationwide search.

“We vetted many applications for this position, and Dr. Groves was the strongest candidate,” said Dr. Angelyn Mitchell of the African American studies program and a member of the search committee for the new provost, “we were all delighted that he wanted to join us.”

Dr. Groves taught at the University of Michigan, and most recently was director of the U.S. Census Bureau overseeing the 2010 census.

Dr. Mitchell says his work at the Census Bureau is one of the experiences that made Dr. Groves such a strong candidate. “Anyone who understands how bureaucracy can disable governmental agencies… would be impressed with Dr. Groves because he was able to efficiently complete the last census in 2010 and did so under budget. Additionally, he was able to improve the response rate for traditionally underrepresented groups.”

Many skills came along with managing the Bureau. With over 600,000 employees, Dr. Groves had to learn how to organize and manage a large group of people.

“Big organizations are changing because of the availability of digital information,” said Dr. Groves, “[I learned] how big organizations including universities can become informed about their progress by looking at these data.”

Dr. Groves outlined three qualities that inspired him to come to Georgetown. One was that he missed spending time with students as census director, and hopes to regain that contact while at Georgetown. He also is excited to be back in a university environment, because of the many changes that U.S. universities will be experiencing in the next few years.

“There are all sorts of external influences, like online learning and tuition pressures along with the desire to make the sciences more vibrant, which make universities a great place to be for the next few years,” Dr. Groves said.

The special values system that Georgetown possesses as a result of its Catholic and Jesuit identities was the final reason why Dr. Groves decided to accept the position of provost.

“If you look at all the problems facing the world, and ask what are the ingredients of their solutions, you can’t get very far without placing on those solutions some guidance from value systems and belief systems,” he said.

At this point, Dr. Groves is looking forward to listening to and begining discussions with the different academic departments and programs at Georgetown. While he has yet to set specific goals for his time on the Hilltop, the new provost hopes to help the university give students the tools to become lifelong learners.

“If you want to learn something now, you type in a few words into a search engine and you’re presented with basically all of human knowledge about those words,” Groves said. “[We have] to give students organic research and scholarship skills through all their courses to effectively live and continue to learn in this world where data will be the cheapest commodity.”

Many professors are looking forward to beginning work with the new provost. Dr. Oded Meyer, a professor of statistics in the mathematics department, is excited to have a fellow statistician in the position.

“I want to convey enthusiasm for statistics to my students,” Dr. Meyer said. “Having the provost involved in the discipline will help with this.”

For his part, Dr. Groves is excited to begin his stint as a Hoya, and is already “having a blast” after spending time at Convocation and watching students move in this past weekend.

“I’m looking forward to going to sporting events and watching plays,” he said. “I’m anxious to meet folks. I’d be happy to be stopped walking on campus just to meet people.”

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