Moving into higher ed administration takes time, Cudd says


For faculty who want to one day be part of a university’s administration, Provost Ann Cudd has some advice.

“What’s really critical, I believe, is to establish one’s academic, research and teaching career and service career and to become a full professor,” she said at a Dec. 7 forum on “How to Navigate the Path from Professor to Provost.”

“The provost really ought to be those kind of well-rounded professors who do well in all areas so that they can be credible when they’re speaking about the work of a professor.”

Cudd, who holds a doctorate in philosophy and two masters — in philosophy and economics — from Pitt and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and philosophy from Swarthmore College, followed a fairly traditional path of increasing responsibility to her current leadership role.

While serving on the faculty at the University of Kansas, she became director of graduate studies for the philosophy department, then director of the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program. She also served at Kansas as the associate dean for humanities in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the vice provost and dean of undergraduate studies. She left Kansas in 2015 to become dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences at Boston University, before coming to Pitt in 2018 as provost.

Beyond developing yourself as a professor, Cudd said, “It’s important to embrace some service roles that, first of all, you’re going to find very interesting and fulfilling, but they also expose you to a much wider community than just your department or your school.”

Joining committees is a key part of that service. She said being a part of the promotion and tenure committees at the school or university level is probably the best experience for future leaders. “It’s also a lot of work. I’ll warn you that you can’t do that all the time,” she said.

“At times I stepped back from certain kinds of work and and focused more on my family,” Cudd said. “I made certain kinds of compromises with my academic career. It worked out pretty well. But I will say, I’m pretty old. So it took time to get to where I am.”

One of the skills Cudd knew she had to develop as a dean was fundraising. She was able to attend a workshop provided by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education to build her knowledge of “how to do fundraising and and what it meant, how to strategize about it and and how to do all the aspects from planning to proposal creation to making an ask of a donor.”

One of her biggest surprises in her role as provost has been how much of it is crisis management.

“Maybe that’s what happens to every provost or maybe that’s the pandemic and some of the other things that have happened since I’ve been provost here,” she said. “But maybe crisis is to be expected.”

The hardest skill she’s had to learn has been “speaking with confidence in front of a large group of people when I’m really not an expert on the subject.” She said she’s had to learn “how to confine myself to what I know about and to be willing to say, ‘That’s a great question. I’ll get back to you.’ ”

Other advice she offered:

  • Attend leadership and faculty development workshops that your university offers. She noted that Pitt has several throughout the year. There’s also an academic leadership network through the ACC and workshops provided by the American Council on Education. Pitt also has tarted to send department chairs to a workshop provided by the the Chronicle of Higher Education.

  • Show up for talks and activities where students and faculty are engaging in debate in different fields — “enjoying the fruits of a university, which is the intellectual smorgasbord that it is,” Cudd said.

  • Learn how to listen, empathetically and to hear other people’s perspectives. Cudd said taking on a point of view that is highly one-sided is going to make it difficult to develop the kind of empathy and listening skills needed.

  • Subscribe to the Chronicle of Higher Education, “so that you get a larger view of what’s going on at other institutions and nationally.”

The forum was part of the provost’s fall 2021 faculty development workshop series on academic and faculty leadership.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 724-244-4042.


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