Penn Provosts


Penn’s provost is the chief academic officer of the University, overseeing all aspects of its research, education, student life, athletics, libraries, and arts and culture – but that was not always the case. It was not until William Pepper became provost in 1881 that all faculties began to report to the provost.

The powers of the office were diminished in the early 1930s before being gradually restored over the next 60 years.

In this edition of By The Numbers, we probe the history of Penn provosts. 


Number of years the Rev. Dr. William Smith served as Penn’s provost. The University’s first and longest-serving provost, Smith served from 1754 to 1779, and was recruited for the position by Ben Franklin.


Year in which Henry Vethake was elected provost. An economist, he was the first Penn provost who was not a clergyman.


Amount out of the first ten Penn provosts that were clergymen. Seven of them were clergy in the Church of England and its American successor, the Episcopal Church.


Number of instructors added during the tenure of Provost Edgar Fahs Smith, who served from 1910-1920. A York, Pa. native, he also doubled enrollment.


Number of years in the early 19th century that Penn went without a provost. After the death of Provost John Ewing in 1802, the Trustees failed to elect a successor for four years.


Year in which John McDowell became Penn’s third provost. He was the first graduate of the College to be named to that office.

Originally published on June 11, 2009