Q&A with interim Provost David Kotz ’86

Kotz discussed his goals for his time in the interim position and the College’s plans for the fall term.

by Andrew Sasser | 9/7/21 5:40am


David Kotz '86 began work as interim Provost on July 1 and will serve in the role until the College finds a permanent replacement.

Source: Courtesy of Daniel Veres

This article is featured in the 2021 Freshman special issue.

Interim Provost David Kotz ’86 has worked at Dartmouth for almost 40 years, having served as a computer science professor and the associate dean of sciences. More recently, he served as interim provost during the 2017-18 academic year. Kotz was recently re-appointed as interim provost following former Provost Joseph Helble’s departure to become the new president of Lehigh University in August. The Dartmouth sat down with Kotz in late August to discuss his role as interim provost, the College’s return to full operations and the time he’s spent at Dartmouth.

Not everyone is familiar with what a provost does. Can you explain what your role as Provost is and what your primary responsibilities are?

DK: I think of the provost as sort of two things — the chief academic officer and the chief budget officer of the school. The simplest analogy for many people is a CEO or chief operating officer, although even that’s not quite a good fit, because Dartmouth also has an executive vice president who handles a lot of the operational aspects. I oversee all of the deans, everything in academics — so the Dean of the Faculty, the Dean of the College, the deans of the professional schools, and the graduate school. I also oversee a lot of the academic units — like the Hopkins Center for the Arts, the Hood Museum of Art, the libraries — and I also jointly oversee admissions and financial aid. I also oversee many of the smaller units like the Montgomery Fellowship Program, the Rassias Center, the sustainability group, and so forth, so a lot of academic and some student affairs groups. As a chief budget officer, I coordinate the construction and approval of the budget every year, working with everybody across campus.

What are your primary goals for your time in the interim provost position?

DK: I’m in the interim, so I don’t come in with a particular strict vision or agenda. I came in relatively late in the year with the goal of just helping the College operate successfully, helping each of the schools and deans and units achieve their goals. And in this particular time, of course, we’re returning to campus in many ways — we’re returning to in-person teaching, staff and faculty returning to work on campus. So a big part of my goal there is to make that transition successful. 

You’re both a computer science professor and a Dartmouth alumnus. How will those prior experiences influence how you make decisions in your new role as interim provost?

DK: I have had to wear several different hats over the years. I’ve been a professor for almost 30 years. I was also an interim provost three years ago, and I served in that role for a year. And I was also an associate Dean of the Faculty for six years, overseeing the science division faculty. Those two roles in particular gave me a lot of experience, connections and awareness of how things work on campus that are helping me in this role. My role as a faculty member, I think, helps me to better understand the perspectives of faculty — and in some ways the perspectives of students, both undergraduate and graduate students. I’m also an alum, and I inevitably bring my own experience and love of Dartmouth to this job. I am also happy to be a parent of a Dartmouth student.  

You served as interim provost during the 2017-18 academic year. What did you learn from your time in the position that you hope to apply during your time as interim provost now?

DK: At a minimum, it certainly helped me understand the landscape, what is involved in doing this job. It will also be helpful for me that many of the people in key positions are still in their positions. Most of the deans are the same, most of the unit heads are the same. It’s really helpful that I already know these people and have a good working relationship with them. The lesson that I learned then, that I'm keenly aware of now, is the need to consult broadly. To think carefully when a decision needs to be made about who I need to consult. Who should I ask for input or advice? I can collect advice from many different people with different perspectives, and hopefully, I can make better choices.

What do you anticipate campus will look like in this upcoming year? And how are you prepared to adapt to the changing situation with COVID-19? 

DK: I anticipate that campus will look reasonably normal in the sense that students are on campus, fully densified classes are operating with teachers and students in the classroom, laboratory, studios, etc. Student activities, including athletics and arts and extracurriculars, are proceeding as usual. I anticipate that we’ll continue to do testing according to some schedule. I also anticipate that we may be masking some times and not masking other times. Right now we’re masking as a precaution, given the Delta variant. My hope is that that will blow through as that wave passes, and hopefully we’ll be able to drop the masks. 

All of us have been learning to adapt, so our goal is to plan and prepare so that we can adapt quickly enough so that the consequences of an externally imposed change — like the arrival of Delta — will be minimized. If we can’t adapt reasonably quickly, then things can get bad enough that we have to impose worse kinds of constraints, right? In no way do I want to go back to remote learning, or for students to go home. We all want to be here. We all want to be together in person. And that’s actually one of the key reasons why I’m asking people to wear masks now, because if we do this now, I’m really hopeful that we can have a safe return to fall. I can’t guarantee anything — nobody can — but that’s the goal. 

For many students, this fall will be the first mostly normal term they’ve experienced on campus in over a year. What steps is Dartmouth taking to rebuild the sense of community on campus?

DK: We’re pitching this year as the year of homecomings. We will not just have one event in October — the homecoming bonfire — which we’re planning to do, but a whole series of events, some of which we do anyway. We’re kind of wrapping them all up like we did for the 250th anniversary. We take a set of events we do, and some new events as well, to have a special celebratory atmosphere. That’s a work in progress. 

For the students — undergraduate students, in particular — the Dean of the College’s office is working on their own set of plans that are aimed specifically at building community. Again, that’s a work in progress. They’re working on it, but I know they’re really keen to develop activities and infrastructure to help students rebuild that sense of community. 

What would students be surprised to learn about you?

DK: I was an undergrad here, of course, and I was really involved in First-Year Trips in the Dartmouth Outing Club and Cabin and Trail, in particular. I was First-Year Trips director in 1985, for the Class of 1989. I’m still really fond of that program, and I’m looking forward to First-Year Trips running successfully this year. I’m still very much an outdoors person — rowing, hiking, that kind of thing. I love to travel. I lived in India for a year, back in 2008. I lived in Switzerland last year during my sabbatical. I really enjoy the cultural experience from living in very different places. I’m also a photographer and I enjoy nature photography.  

You've been involved with the College in one capacity or another for well over 30 years at this point. What is it about Dartmouth in particular that you love?

DK: It's been almost 40 years actually, as of last month — 40 years since I came as a prospie. It’s a cliche, but I really love the sense of place. We exist here in the wilderness, and I think we embrace that in our campus ethos, allowing us to connect the natural world. And I feel that, for many of us, that gives us not just a sense of place, but a sense of peace. In stressful times, having that ability to connect with nature, I find that very, very cool. We are right on the river and on the Appalachian Trail. And we have a lot of students and staff who enjoy everything there is to offer here. 

What advice would you give members of the Class of 2025 as they arrive on campus for the first time?

DK: I would say to embrace the opportunities that Dartmouth offers. I think a lot of people don’t realize, until they’ve graduated and left college for a couple of years, the special things that we have here. You come in and you are surrounded by resources — human resources, like the expertise of the faculty and the diversity of experiences drawn from your classmates, but also the physical resources of research facilities or athletic facilities that enable you to basically go try anything you want to do, whether it be intellectual or physical or recreational. And when you get out in the real world — you’ve got a job, you’ve got a house, mortgage payment, you’ve got kids, whatever — you have to pay to go to the gym, you have to pay to sign up for some class. At Dartmouth, these are all parts of the package. This is an amazing opportunity. So embrace the opportunities, try new things. Don’t hesitate to get involved.