Meet the Provost
Christon Arthur, Provost
Dr. Arthur’s wife Carmelita works at the dean’s office in the School of Health Professions; his son CJ is a junior at Andrews Academy.
What is the difference between the president’s job and the provost’s job?
Generally speaking, the president’s job is to set the agenda, to frame the vision for a university, to decide where we’re going. And the president is usually the “face” of the university to external constituents. The provost’s job, generally speaking, is to carry out that vision, to be the face of the university to the campus, the internal constituents. At very successful institutions, the president and the provost work almost seamlessly together.
What are some of the leading strategic initiatives for this year?
I’ll mention two or three. We have begun to engage in a conversation about “blue oceans.” Blue oceans are contrasted with red oceans. So, for instance, take the dozen or so institutions of Adventist higher education in North America. In the red ocean concept we’re all in the same small swimming pool, going after the same eighteen-year-old student in some academy. We try to make the most competitive sales pitch to this student so that they will come to us, and the “red ocean” metaphor comes from the “blood” that results from competition over a limited market. “Blue ocean” thinking says why don’t we stop doing that and start asking where are the new opportunities? What are the growth opportunities? This fall we’ll have a consultant on campus who will be spending time with us trying to stimulate our thinking about new opportunities and new markets: blue oceans. Through this we hope to position Andrews better for the future.
A second thing that we’re looking at this year is, “What are the distinguishing qualities or hallmarks of the Andrews graduate? What’s the added advantage of coming to Andrews?” The College of Arts & Sciences is taking the lead on this with its work on the Unified Framework of Outcomes. We want to make sure that when a student leaves Andrews they don’t simply leave with credits and a degree. So we want the classes, the co-curricular activities, the worships, all our activities, to all add value to the Andrews student’s experience. We hope to become a little more crisp in saying, “That’s the Andrews student.”
The third link is we’re talking about innovation at Andrews. How do we ensure that the Andrews student has meaningful depth in their learning experience? How do we ensure that they have experiential learning, the opportunity to practice what they learn. We’re also thinking of developing some innovation spaces or labs on campus.
Switching tracks, is that a Greg Constantine Emeritus Research Professor of Art] painting on your wall (see photo, provided by Provost's office)?
Yes. Greg, in this painting, has brought three different pieces together: God the Creator (far right), the counter worker in Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks (middle) and the person on the left is from a Toulouse-Lautrec poster. The whole idea is to bring different time periods together and create a collage that represents different kinds of thinking. And in a sense, isn’t that what learning tries to do for our students? Take different ideas, maybe even some conflicting ideas, and try to make sense of them. I fell in love with this painting.
How would you describe the importance of Andrews University to the worldwide Adventist church?
Andrews has much to contribute to the thinking of the church: theological thought, scientific thought, social science thought, thought in the humanities, and more. But if there’s only one thing we can provide, it’s about how to bring a good, thoughtful process to the issues and challenges of the time. Not just to say what a thoughtful process is, but to model it. We have a weighty responsibility as we help shape the thinking of our current and future leaders. I hope every graduate can leave Andrews knowing that even if they have unanswered questions, and they will, that Andrews has given them the skills, the toolkit, to make sense of those difficult questions.
The skills you are just naming sound like results of higher education, but if I’m remembering your educational history, you were not always planning to go to college.
I was born and raised on the small Caribbean island, Grenada, 12 miles wide by 25 miles long. I grew up Catholic, and in the village where I grew up and in the home where I grew up college was not even part of the conversation. I knew it was there, but that was what other folks did, so after high school I went off to work. There is a U.S. medical school on Grenada, and I worked as a library assistant, helping students find the books or other resources they needed—and in the course of time I became a Seventh-day Adventist (but that’s another story), and my very young pastor, who had just graduated from Caribbean Union College (CUC), Trinidad (now University of the Southern Caribbean), one day after church came up to me and said “you know, you need to go to college.” And I thought he was just being funny, because I had a job, I was living at home with my mom, I had no bills. I didn’t need to go to college. But he persisted to the point where he actually brought me an application for CUC Trinidad and said, “Here, just fill it out and give it back to me.” So I filled it out and gave it to him, and he mailed it in. Long story short, I got accepted. They must really have been looking for students. So I went to CUC, and that changed my life. It was a transformative experience. I like to say “an Adventist education should not simply be informative; it should be transformative.” It’s not a matter of “here’s the content knowledge for your discipline. It’s also “here’s how you live. Here’s how your life will be enriched, and here’s how you can enrich the life of others.” CUC totally transformed how I viewed the world; what was my responsibility to the rest of the world; what is the appropriate use of knowledge. Knowledge is not just for self-enhancement, but for me to use in my community to make it a better place.
I went there in 1986, already a grown man, a non-traditional student. I graduated in 1989, kept on with school and had my doctorate by 2000. I attribute that to the transformation I got at CUC, learning to not be satisfied with what is, but asking what else, what more can there be? I think Jim Collins [author of the business book Good to Great] has it right: the enemy of “great” is not mediocrity. It’s the idea that I’m already good enough.
Can you relate a specific incident at CUC that was one of the ingredients in your transformation?
Here’s one. It may seem ordinary, but it wasn’t. I paid my way through school by working on grounds. The Caribbean islands are hilly, and so mowing on campus required going up and down hills. In the middle of one of those hot days, I was mowing down a slope and I had a flashback to a few months before: I was working in the air-conditioned library of the medical school, making money, not a whole lot but I didn’t have any bills, and here I was in the hot sun, trying to make enough money to stay in school, and I asked myself, “What am I doing here? What have I done? Was this a crazy idea?” And I had a sort of revelation, a certain appreciation of what it means to work. That work is not only meaningful when it gives me psychological ease; it is also meaningful when there’s a purpose and a design behind it. Of course I was beautifying the campus, but this was also a means to bettering my life, and, by extension, bettering my family and my community. I’m the last of six children in my family and I was the first to go to college. Since then two of my older sisters have gone to college, and one of them has a master’s degree. Why? Because someone said to me “go to college.” The mowing was still difficult, but after that moment I related to it differently.
If you’re going to relax and refresh yourself, what do you do?
I find a book and a quiet place and I read. I’m not a speed reader. I love to ponder and daydream. So I read a paragraph—or if I’m lucky, two pages—and I think about what that would mean in my context or how I would apply it.
Are these books all about leadership in higher education, or do you have some other interests?
Some are leadership. I like to browse in the business and self-improvement areas.
What do you do to keep your health up? I see you’re wearing a Fitbit.
I try to get in 10,000 steps a day, and most days I’m able to do it. I live in Niles, about three miles from the Y (YMCA), and thanks to my wife’s encouragement, we get up every morning about 4:30 a.m. and get to the Y about 5 a.m. to work out for an hour. I usually walk or run a 5K and spend the rest of the time doing weights, leg strengthening. I wish I could say I totally enjoy it. I don’t enjoy it while I’m doing it, but I enjoy it when I’m done. I do it for a couple of reasons. I say to myself I want to have a routine where I do some things not purely out of pleasure and enjoyment, but just being responsible. I want my son to see me taking it seriously, that taking care of your body is important.