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Jonathan Holloway begins tenure as Northwestern provost

Sees his job as new provost as ‘pushing the envelope of ideas and discoveries’

EVANSTON - Northwestern University’s new provost, Jonathan Holloway, greeted the community warmly on his first day today (Aug. 1) with a promise to address the University’s needs and a determination to strengthen critical funding for research across the disciplines.

A historian specializing in African American studies, the former dean of Yale College began his tenure at Northwestern declaring he was delighted to join “our vibrant, world-class institution” and looked forward to pursuing “my own research agenda, even as I support my faculty colleagues in doing the same.”

In a brief email message to the community, Holloway observed: “The way I think about leadership is service. Through my team, my job will be to serve the university community – faculty, staff and students in both graduate and undergraduate programs – and continue pushing the envelope of ideas, discoveries and teaching excellence.

“I believe deeply that a university’s role is fulfilled when it introduces its students to the world of ideas and life-long learning,” he said in the message. He also expressed appreciation for the strong foundation laid by his predecessor, former Provost Dan Linzer.

In a wide-ranging interview before he assumed his new role, Holloway was candid about his views on leadership, his excitement at being part of Northwestern’s faculty, his background as a fourth-generation college administrator, his love for higher education, his devotion to his family and his commitment to work to bolster federal funding for research.

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I’m the provost for everybody, that’s the same when it comes to the research agenda.

Jonathan Holloway

In a nod to Northwestern President Morton Schapiro, Holloway noted that the simple definition of the provost’s job, in his mind, is “to realize the president’s vision by managing the university and getting it moving in a particular direction.”

Beyond that, Holloway explained, “My job is to serve the university, and as the provost, my top job is to serve the faculty--and through my deputies, to maintain the integrity of the undergraduate and graduate experiences as well. And by serving the faculty, that means doing everything I can to make sure they have the right kind of working environment, whether it's in terms of facilities or resources.”

Championing federal funding for research

At a time when federal research dollars are at risk, Holloway pledged to do all he can to ensure that the resources required will remain in place to support fully the vital research that leads to discovery and innovation at Northwestern, as it does across the nation’s universities.

"My job," Holloway declared in the interview, "is to do everything I can to make sure the breadth of the University’s research agenda is maintained. Northwestern has a really strong history and commitment in the sciences. This is very clear. And that’s not going to change under my watch. My love for the humanities and social sciences will remain steadfast as well."

“I’m the provost for everybody, that’s the same when it comes to the research agenda. I will do all the work that I can do to make sure that a really aggressive environment is there for the scientists to push as they should, just as I want the historians to push and the sociologists to push,” he observed.

“That’s an important part of my job: To make sure we maintain the integrity of the mission,” he added, noting that he is mindful of the fact that the federal environment for funding is changing. “Northwestern is an incredibly robust institution. … My ambition is to see where it is already a great place and do everything I can to make it better, to make it its best possible version of itself.”

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I see Northwestern as an incubator of the next great ideas in science, medicine and engineering, and the custodian of the grand traditions in the humanities and social sciences.

Jonathan Holloway

During the last nine months, Holloway has visited the Northwestern campuses in Evanston, Chicago and Doha to prepare for his new role as provost. He has come to admire the University’s impressive global reach and impact as well as its commitment to community, values, discovery and first-rate facilities across a diverse landscape of University experience.

“The notion of a University as a community is really important to me,” he said in the interview. “I’ve raised my own family at universities, so it’s very real to me. … I love being at universities. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing.”

Holloway concluded in his message: “As I come into this provostship and look to build on the solid foundation Dan Linzer established over the last decade, I look forward to getting to know many of you over the coming months.”

Long experience at Yale, Harvard and Stanford

Holloway won the William Clyde DeVane Award for Distinguished Scholarship and Teaching in Yale College in 2009 and the Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award in 2014. He served as the master of Calhoun College from 2005-2014 and was Chair of the Council of Masters from 2009-2013. He began a three-year term as Chair of the Department of African American Studies in 2013. That term was abbreviated when he was named Dean of Yale College, beginning in July 2014.  

Holloway has held fellowships from the W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute at Harvard University, the Stanford Humanities Center and the Ford Foundation. He was an Alphonse Fletcher Sr. Fellow in 2011-2012. Currently, he is a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians.

Holloway received a bachelor’s degree with honors in American Studies from Stanford University. He then went on to earn three advanced degrees from Yale, an M.A. in history, an M.Phil. in history and a Ph.D. in history. He began his academic career at the University of California, San Diego, before joining the faculty at Yale in 1999 and becoming a full professor in 2004.

“I see Northwestern as an incubator of the next great ideas in science, medicine and engineering, and the custodian of the grand traditions in the humanities and social sciences,” Holloway said after he was named provost-designate last fall. “I look forward to working with the deans of every school at Northwestern, as we build upon strength and develop new and exciting directions for the University’s teaching and research activities.”

Holloway is married to Aisling Colón. They have a daughter, Emerson, 17, and son, Ellison, 14.