Getting to Know Provost Lawrence Schovanec

The longtime faculty member discusses the goals of his new role and his love for Texas Tech.

Lawrence Schovanec joined the Texas Tech University faculty in 1982. More than 30 years later, he is provost and senior vice president for the university.

It’s been a long journey for the Oklahoma native, who has served many roles during his three decades on campus. He served as interim provost for seven months before officially taking over the role on Jan. 1. Before that, he served for nearly a year as interim president and two years as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. He also served as interim dean of the college from September 2008 through May 2010 and as chairman of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics beginning in 1998.

Schovanec earned his doctorate in mathematics from Indiana University, his master’s degree from Texas A&M University and bachelor of science degree from Phillips University. He has received the President’s Excellence in Teaching Award and is a member of the Texas Tech Teaching Academy.

What are your goals as provost?

Of course the strategic planning for the university has been put in place for three years, but the president has his own emphasis on certain aspects of that plan, so I support his initiatives. It’s natural for me to do that because they relate to student success, academic quality and reputation, and growing research.

But we’re putting a greater emphasis this year on starting with student success. Last week I spoke with all the advisors on campus, and we’re going to improve our retention and graduation rates. And I’ve made this comment several times, that when you look at the quality of Tier One schools, it’s not all about what the faculty do, it’s about your student population and success. So we’re going to pay a lot of attention to enhancing student success as it reflects in graduation rate and retention. 

I will work very closely with the new vice president for research to build scholarships, scholarly activity and research funding. That’s a high priority for Texas Tech, especially for federal and external support.

Within the initiative to grow enrollment there’s going to be a greater emphasis on increasing our international population, so I’ve appointed a new associate vice provost for international affairs. We’re also going to be expanding our presence in terms of online delivery. I’ve appointed a new vice provost who will be overseeing that initiative, and so within the general strategic priorities for the university, those are going to be the general things we’ll be focusing on. 

What did you learn during your time as interim president?

Well, a lot. I was surprised by who I had to spend so much time with in that role; the CFO and I would communicate quite a bit, the athletic director, obviously the chief of staff, the Board of Regents and also, because we were in a legislative session, we made a lot of trips to Austin. That enabled me to meet a group of people that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to interact with, and they were all very impressive, successful people. Even in the short time I dealt with the presidents in the Big 12 Conference, I was very impressed by all of them. I have the highest opinion of how Kirby Hocutt manages the athletic program and all the other people that support him. And the Board of Regents, you really realize they know a lot of what goes on in this university, and you really appreciate what they do.

What has been your favorite part as a faculty member, dean, president, and now provost?

I would say as a faculty member and as a chair one of the best parts of the day was teaching and also having some success in your research. I’d never envisioned that I would not be doing the things I did in my first year. As dean, what was really new was dealing with the alumni; you really see what wonderful alums Texas Tech has. And when you make calls as a dean, you’re calling on people who are pretty successful, so it was inspiring. In the president’s role, it was great to see how Texas Tech is valued statewide and, again, how the alumni care about the university. In this role you’re more into the weeds and you get a real sense of accomplishment and, again, you can enable people’s success but you’re also dealing with so many competing interests. It’s sometimes frustrating when you know you can’t do all you’d like to do. You have to manage expectations and you have to establish certain standards, and I think people want that. They want to know there’s accountability, but they want a reward system as well.

What has made you stay at Texas Tech?

That’s interesting because anybody who gets into administration is going to be contacted by many other schools about opportunities. But first of all I like it, I like Texas Tech; I like Lubbock. I remember one time there was a school in San Diego that wanted me to go out there and look at an administration position, and I asked my wife ‘what do you think about living in San Diego?’ and she said ‘go ahead and do it, it’s not a bad commute.’ So, we’re not going anywhere.

I’ve never seen a place that has so much upside as Texas Tech. You really get a sense of Texas Tech’s growing reputation, and we’re becoming a hot brand in Texas and nationally. You’re seeing more and more visibility of the university.