provost's portrait

Jim Coleman

(336) 334-5494

Office of the Provost
201 Mossman Building
PO Box 26174
Greensboro, NC 27402-6170

Jennifer Johnson
Assistant to the Provost
(336) 334-5395


I was thrilled to join UNC Greensboro as Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs,and Professor of Biology on July 1, 2020.  It was energizing, albeit a bit awkward, engaging with the UNCG community at the outset of my job during a period of social distancing. Sometimes it felt like I was  trapped in the virtual world of a Zoom rectangle, as if I was a character in a bad Star Trek episode. But, despite the virtual world that COVID-19 has created, the passion of the UNCG community for the transformational mission of the university is inspiring.  

UNCG is clearly on a path to be a model university recognized for integrating access and excellence and for making a difference in our community. UNCG is to me a living and breathing example of the best of public higher education- UNCG is a powerful transformational force propelling individuals up the socio-economic ladder and improving the well-being of people in Greensboro, North Carolina and beyond.

I am excited, and anxious, about the start of the Fall Semester and use a metaphor that captures my anticipation. Each fall a tidal wave of students, staff and faculty sweep onto the shores of the campus, stirring it out of summer’s semi-hibernation and leaving it awash in the swirling waters of an academic sea. Metaphorical vernal pools of students, faculty and staff are then found across campus, teeming with positive academic energy.  This is usually a spectacular annual academic ritual. But, in 2020, the annual wave enveloping us in academic energy will make landfall during a storm of high anxiety and uncertainty as a result of the pandemic. The wave will still bring with it the optimism (e.g,, everyone will get an “A”) and vibrancy that energize each new Fall Semester, but it will force us to come together and draw on our empathy, compassion and flexibility to navigate the storm.

I use another metaphor to think about a university. In this metaphor, the university is  an ecosystem sustained by the integrated functions of academics, student life and the  functions that support them. There are three inputs into this ecosystem — students, funding and faculty/staff — and three simple but extraordinarily important outputs — graduates who are propelled on to profoundly meaningful and successful lives; research, scholarship and creative activities that change fields of study and/or matter to people; and improving the quality of life and well being in our community and beyond.  When we are functioning well, successful outcomes lead to stronger inputs into the system and a perpetually successful university. So, every decision we make about using resources needs to be put to the “ecosystem test”- every  decision we make needs to be the best decision we can make with respect to using resources (e.g., time, space, money) to optimize the success of students;  the impact of research and creative activity; and /or positive effects on our community. If not, we should make a different decision.

I am often asked what a provost does.  If you Google “definition of a provost” you will likely find four possibilities. One definition is a senior official usually responsible for all things academic, and that certainly applies to the role. The other definitions apply more metaphorically.  A provost can be defined as the head of a chapter in a cathedral.  This is apropos in the sense  that working to propel students on to great lives, changing the world with research and creative activities, and improving people’s lives is ethereal work.  All of us in the university community can get bogged down in the administrative and bureaucratic aspect of higher education. But, we really do ethereal work, and it is my job on occasion to remind the campus community that the day to day morass of challenges serves a truly higher purpose. A third definition, the Mayor of Scottish Burgh,  also serves as a good metaphor, because it is the job of the provost’s office to keep this large academic city at UNCG running, ensuring the policies and processes work, and that the academic “trains” run on time.  Finally, a fourth definition you’ll find on Google is that provost can be the keeper of a prison. Although I think universities are exemplary bastions of intellectual freedom, my experience is that everyone I have met that has ever been a student, staff and/or faculty member in a university smiles  immediately when reflecting  on that definition.

So, on that hopefully amusing note, let me welcome you to the Provost’s Office. And, let me do so with joy for the incredibly rewarding and important work we will do together at UNCG. 

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
Professor of Biology