When Jennifer Turpin takes over June 1 as provost for the University of San Francisco, she’ll begin her position with 10 strategic objectives already laid out. On the top of that list? Achieving national and international recognition for USF.
“I want a student or a parent who is trying to decide where to send their student to make USF their very first choice because they know they will experience a rigorous academically excellent education that is also characterized by the cura personalis (care for the entire person) that we talk about in our mission,” said Turpin, who has served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences since 2003.
Some of Turpin’s other goals include creating a campus environment that supports and promotes diversity, strengthening USF’s financial base, and preserving the university’s Jesuit history and mission while making it more well known to students. She also wants to work on making sure universities are not judged solely on the economic earnings of their graduates. That, she said, shortchanges everyone—current students, faculty, and alumni.
“For that to be the only measure of a successful education is a terrible, terrible thing,” said Turpin.
As part of her new role, Turpin would like to devise measurements that take into consideration a range of other criteria: What academic distance does a student travel while at a university? How much does a student learn? How capable are students of thinking critically, acting creatively, and finding leadership capacity in the name of a just cause? What impact on society do students have?
Having USF lead academically—while charting new directions in how higher education is assessed—is just part of her ambitious plan. Turpin, who replaces James L. Wiser (see sidebar), already has her first 100 days laid out, right down to meetings she plans to hold in the first week and beyond. Marcelo Camperi, currently associate dean of sciences, has been named interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
“Jennifer Turpin brings to this demanding position at this challenging moment a highly successful tenure as dean of Arts and Sciences, a longstanding commitment to the Jesuit Catholic tradition of humanizing education, and a familiarity with USF that will make her more effective pushing us forward and not at all complacent about where we are now,” said USF President Stephen A. Privett, S.J. “Those of us who have worked with Jenny know that she is energetic, articulate, imaginative, gracious, and very hardworking.”
Turpin plans to expand the role of USF’s regional campuses, launch new, expanded programs in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., develop three-year bachelor of arts and bachelor of science options, and initiate the creation of a USF Center for Teaching Excellence, and a USF Center for Research Excellence.
She also wants to be a visible presence on campus while educating the campus community on the role of a provost. She freely acknowledges that many have only a vague notion of what a provost does.
USF’s provost is the chief academic officer of the university and counts among his/her duties overseeing the recruitment and retention of faculty, curriculum development, instilling USF’s values characterized by a faith that does justice, directing the academic programs of the university through the deans and colleges, overseeing admissions and transfer policies, as well as student academic services, and budget planning.
Looking Back on James Wiser’s Accomplishments
When James L. Wiser steps down on May 31 as provost, he’ll leave behind a legacy of accomplishments. Wiser, who has served as vice president of academic affairs since 1998 and provost since 1999, has provided leadership for a range of projects, including:
• A significant increase in the number of budgeted full-time faculty positions.
• Curricular reform and development, including a new core curriculum and a large number of new undergraduate majors and minors, and graduate programs.
• Increased support for faculty research, including the creation of the Office of Sponsored Projects and the initiation of 75 percent salary support for full-year sabbaticals.
• A marked increase in applications for undergraduate admissions and a noticeably improved selectivity rate for acceptances.
• Improvement in USF’s academic facilities, including the Dorraine Zief Library and the renovation of the School of Law, renovation of Kalmanovitz Hall and Malloy Hall, and the renovation of Lone Mountain classrooms.
“Perhaps most importantly, I am very proud of the faculty, staff, and administrators I have hired for USF,” Wiser said. “These are men and women for others and we all benefit from their hard work and commitment.”
Following a sabbatical, Wiser plans to remain at USF as a faculty member in the politics department.
“Provosts are sometimes imagined as remote and removed, imagined as someone up in an ivory tower making administrative decisions that are not necessarily that connected to the student experience,” said Turpin. “My hope is to be very connected to the student experience.” Turpin has already conducted an interview for USF-TV, streamed into residence halls, to convey that message.
She also wants to expand USF’s connection to alumni and the greater San Francisco community. USF, she said, has not fully realized the potential of its location, both in terms of opportunities the city can offer students as well as what USF can provide to San Francisco. Turpin wants to systematically examine opportunities across the curriculum, for example, she said, “If I’m a student studying creative writing at USF, what does San Francisco offer me as my extended classroom?”
Still, Turpin said, USF already has a lot going on—whenever she mentions USF’s accomplishments to people outside the university, they are both surprised and extremely impressed. Part of her job, Turpin said, is to not only get the word out about those accomplishments, but also to further build upon USF’s strengths.
Turpin first joined USF’s sociology faculty in 1991, after receiving her doctorate from the University of Texas, Austin. During her years as a faculty member at USF, she received USF’s Distinguished Teaching Award and the College Service Award. Turpin founded USF’s women’s studies program, and was chair of the sociology department from 1995-97.
She then served as associate dean for the College of Arts and Sciences, overseeing the arts, humanities, and social sciences, before being named dean in 2003 and initiating new courses and programming during her tenure. Turpin, chosen for the provost position after a nationwide search that brought four finalists from across the country to campus, impressed the search committee with her insider-knowledge and her drive to preside over continued improvements and innovations at USF.
“USF really is a unique institution,” Turpin said. “I believe completely in the mission of the university and I know USF can stand out as a leader among institutions of higher education.”