Chiefly Academic

Q&A with Provost Isiaah Crawford

Written by Annie Beckmann
Photography by Chris Joseph Taylor
September 13, 2012
The promotion of academic and scholarly excellence is one of Seattle University's key strategic priorities and Provost Isiaah Crawford is guiding its advancement.

Crawford, who joined the university in 2008, leads the Division of Academic Affairs. The deans of all SU’s schools and colleges, university librarian, vice provost, vice president for enrollment management and the associate provosts all report directly to him.

Senior writer Annie Beckmann recently sat down with the provost to get his take on where the university is headed when it comes to true academic excellence.

How would you describe what’s happening in academics across campus?
For the last 3½ years or so, the university community, particularly my faculty colleagues, have really engaged in a process of curricular renewal, looking at our academic programs to make sure they are delivering on the goals and aspirations associated with them. Are we educating our students in the subject areas and in the ways in which we believe is most appropriate and best for them to meet our learning outcomes? We’re taking a good, hard look at that.

How do you define academic excellence?
Part of our role as educators is to provide a way for students to realize their potential and take full advantage of their intellectual and spiritual gifts. To be challenged in a manner that calls upon them to apply themselves in ways that stretches and, perhaps, takes them to places of discovery, insight and understanding they did not think they could reach. That’s what I think of in terms of academic excellence—looking for aspects of precision of thought, breadth and depth of knowledge that is accompanied with the ability to apply what one has learned in a variety of circumstances or situations.

There are those who say social justice has become secondary to academic excellence. What’s your view?
I see academic excellence and social justice as being fully linked. From my perspective, to be most effective in promoting social justice, one needs to be well-informed, thoughtful experts in a field of study to develop and implement solutions to address the inequities that exist in our world. The pursuit of academic excellence and social justice are symbiotic and inextricably linked at Seattle University; they are not at odds with one another.

What for you is the most exciting element of the new Core?
I am most excited about the learning outcomes-based nature of our new undergraduate core curriculum, which will launch in fall 2013. The new core remains very true to the Jesuit, Catholic liberal arts tradition. By that I mean it retains a strong focus on the humanities while providing students with an opportunity to gain greater exposure in the areas of science and regional, national and transnational cultures, which we believe will better prepare them to become effective and knowledgeable world citizens.

How will we know when we achieve our goals?
In addition to Seattle University being complimented on its social justice focus, we will see it referenced more often for the exceptional quality of its academic programs, the noteworthy accomplishments of its students and graduates and the high-caliber research, scholarship and artistic work produced by its world-class faculty.
Provost Isiaah Crawford