Peter J. Nichols, Ph.D., UConn’s provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs, has served in major academic leadership roles for the past 20 years. He is the University’s chief academic officer and is responsible for all academic programs, including the regional campuses, School of Law and schools of Medicine and Dental Medicine. Reporting to him are deans of the schools and colleges, along with other high-level academic leaders, such as the vice president for Student Affairs. He’s had a long, successful career in administration and seven successful years at UConn as provost, but something else was calling him–a desire to return to teaching and research.
On May 31, Dr. Nichols will step down as provost and join the Neag School of Education faculty of the Department of Educational Leadership, helping graduate students and working education professionals prepare for key educational leadership positions.
The move was a natural one for Dr. Nichols, who over the years has regularly interacted with the “diverse, wonderfully talented and practitioner-oriented” students in UConn’s Higher Education and Students Affairs (HESA) program overseen by Vice President for Student Affairs John Saddlemire.
As provost, Dr. Nichols also regularly kept in contact with undergraduate students through teaching a First Year Experience class, which he typically did in the fall. “Honestly, this was the best part of the work week for me, serving as a reminder of what we are all about as an institution,” Dr. Nicholls said, adding that he enjoyed the freedom of selecting an academic topic that interested him and interacting with a small group of freshman students for lively discussions.
In reflecting about his role as provost, Dr. Nichols said: “Being the provost at UConn has been a wonderful opportunity to help shape the academic direction of a major university. To be able to choose a leadership team of vice provosts and deans to help direct the expenditure of UConn 2000 funds, and to develop programs such as Study Abroad, the Honors Program and Living/Learning Communities, have all been activities with a big impact for the academic mission of the University. It’s all been exciting and stimulating work.”
A mathematics professor in his earliest professional days, Dr. Nichols cites a deep interest in higher education policy, leadership and government issues as a big part of his reason for requesting to join the Neag School of Education’s Educational Leadership Department.
In a written communication to the University community, President Susan Herbst responded to Dr. Nichol’s request with encouragement. “While I’m happy for Peter and understand his desire to return to teaching following a long career in administration, it would be difficult not to feel a sense of loss at the departure of such an outstanding leader, colleague and friend.
“Anyone who has worked closely with Peter knows that he maintains a reserved equanimity (and dry wit) as he carries out the work of what is a highly demanding and stressful position,” President Herbst continued. “Peter cares deeply for our students and our mission as a public higher education institution, and he has a great respect for our faculty and staff. On behalf of this entire institution, I extend my most heartfelt thanks to him for his outstanding and lasting contributions to the University of Connecticut.”
Dr. Nichols said “the highest level of admiration” and strong, professional associations with several members of the Neag community– specifically Richard Schwab, Sally Reis, and Thomas DeFranco –also led to his decision to join the School of Education.
“I’m delighted that Dr. Nichols will be joining the Neag faculty,” wrote Dean DeFranco in an announcement to the Neag School. “Under his strong leadership, academic programs across the University are at their strongest, and our national visibility as a University has soared to where we are now recognized as one of the best.
“He brings a wealth of experience as an administrator and faculty member to the HESA program. We are very fortunate to have an individual of his talent and experience join us.”
Dr. Nichols said he is “looking forward to joining the Neag School and getting back more directly into academic pursuits.” The students and faculty will benefit immensely from his desire to return to teaching, and the educational community will benefit from his exemplary service to academic leadership.