UC MagazineUniversity of CincinnatiUC Magazine

UC Magazine

New Provost at UC: What is a provost?

UC's newest administrator offers a musical analogy

by Deborah Rieselman

In simple terms, a provost is the chief academic officer of a university. But what exactly does a provost do?

This fall, on the first day of classes, UC's new provost and senior vice president, Santa Ono, had a typically tight schedule: meetings with three different deans; an appearance at a white-coat ceremony; a phone conversation with the National Institutes of Health about research funding; two media interviews; plus internal discussions about potential presidential visitors, enrollment strategies and housing for first-generation, low-income freshman.

Juggling all the aspects of his job is something Ono compares to being a symphony-orchestra conductor — not a far-fetched analogy for someone who is a cellist, medical researcher and academician. "Just as an orchestra is made up of different instruments with different tonalities, a university is a group of individual students and faculty focused on very different things," he says.

"The power of a university relies on the full orchestra sound, bringing those sometimes dissonant voices together into something that is very magnificent and that has an impact on society. A provost can create a coherent response just as a conductor can create a coherent musical voice using different parts of an orchestra.

"If there were no conductor and the orchestra was run by the first-chair of every section, you would have complete chaos. With a single person conducting, it's very coordinated."

A campus of 13 colleges and more than 41,000 students needs a lot of coordination. To make sure everyone is "in synch," he meets regularly with deans, President Gregory Williams and the President's Cabinet to help implement the university's strategic plan.

Ono talks about the need to build bridges between the Academic Health Center and the rest of UC and to coordinate activities across the institution, including regional campuses. In addition, developing new programs and efficiencies to reinvest resources will help create the best environment for students and cutting-edge faculty. He frequently enthuses about the university's move "from excellence to eminence."

Accomplishing that will require an extensive number of diverse players, he says, and that also excites him. "Universities are great because of the contributions each individual makes to an institution.

"Some people would think that a CEO of a company that supports UC is more important than an entering freshman. I do not believe that. I truly believe there is no hierarchy. I work best when I make myself accessible and approachable to everyone."


Provost Santa Jeremy Ono

UC appointment, September 2010

  • Senior vice president, provost for academic affairs
  • Professor of pediatrics and biology

Last position, Emory University

  • Senior vice provost: undergraduate education, academic affairs
  • Professor: ophthalmology, medicine, pediatrics, biology
  • Adviser: Alpha Tau Omega fraternity, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship
  • Baritone: University Chorus, after asking a student for lessons three years ago


  • Undergrad: biological sciences, University of Chicago
  • Fellowship training: biochemistry, molecular biology, Harvard University
  • Ph.D.: experimental medicine, McGill University, Montreal

Academic, research appointments

  • Johns Hopkins
  • Harvard
  • University College London


  • Key contributions to understanding immunity in the diseased eye


  • Born in Vancouver; raised in Baltimore
  • Studied cello, Peabody Institute, Preparatory Division
  • At age 14, had a letter to the editor published in Time magazine (lamenting artists exiled from Russia)
  • At 15, he worked on behalf of Ralph Nader's movement to pass the Clean Water Act
  • As a high school senior, organized an effort to assemble and send a giant Christmas card to the 52 hostages held during the Iran Hostage Crisis