Time to serve
While R. Nowell Donovan has spent years studying Earth's ancient history, it's TCU's future that he's focused on now.
By Jaime Blanton '02
R. Nowell Donovan, geologist, has always appreciated the value of time. He recently studied 400 million-year-old rocks in northern Scotland. But for Nowell Donovan, newly appointed provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, time is even more valuable than it used to be.
Since he assumed his latest post June 1, he confesses that basic necessities like sleep have taken a back seat to the demands of the job.
From 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day, he devotes most of his mental energy to work. Thankfully, wife Jeanne enjoys assisting with his research and serves as "a marvelous springboard."
"I am passionate about the possibilities of what I'm doing, and I have vowed to give my full attention to the important matters of this institution," Donovan says. "The university is at a crossroads. The decisions facing us now are critically important, so I treat them as such."
A scientist-philosopher, Donovan is prone to long conversations with himself, and recurring topics are the strengths and weaknesses of the institution. He has played an active role in numerous university committees and academic initiatives, all experiences he plans to rely on as provost.
"I have a vision," he says. "I know where I think we need to go, and part of my job will be to find ways to articulate what I have been seeing for some time now in ways that will be received by others in the academic establishment."
Chancellor Victor Boschini Jr., a relative newcomer on the TCU administrative block too, says Donovan is exactly the kind of thoughtful, hardworking man the university needs as it moves forward.
"Not only is he motivated and passionate about this place, but his dedication to students and faculty make him a perfect match for the role of provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs," Boschini said. "His experience with TCU will serve as an invaluable resource, and his unique perspective about the university culture is refreshing."
Donovan's smooth Scottish brogue and distinctive sense of humor have made him one of TCU's most popular professors. He came to the university in 1986 to fill the Charles B. Moncrief Chair of Geology, and since then he has been focused on, in his words, transforming a great university into a Great University.
"Universities by nature are places where often we have a propensity for reinventing the wheel many times over," he says. "The challenge we face is finding ways to innovate the way we think, teach and challenge students to look beyond the surface to the greater importance of what they are learning."
Student interaction helped motivate him to apply for the administrative position. He says students today seem to be searching for deeper meaning from their education.
"Many students come to college looking for ways to define themselves in terms of the world around them. One of TCU's greatest strengths lies in the quality of its faculty. Great teaching will strive to answer -- although I'm not sure these things can always be answered -- but we can illuminate subjects so people go deeper into themselves.
"That's why what we refer to as the liberal arts institution has such intrinsic value; it's the vehicle by which we can explore our own potential. The job of provost is to make sure the mission of a liberal arts institution is properly delivered."
Donovan, 60, signed a five-year contract. Although he's certain that not everything he hopes to accomplish will be realized, the geologist in him knows it's better to toil diligently, laying groundwork, then move on.
"When you're a geologist, you believe in cyclicity; I believe something happens for a certain period of time, then you recycle. Dr. Boschini is a young, energetic man. I believe he will benefit from a cycle of different provosts. Leadership is a couple of things: being able to step up to the plate when it's your turn and stepping down when it's time."
Boschini and Donovan are already working closely on a number of academic initiatives. They say they get along well personally, but each is perplexed by what gets the other's blood pumping.
Donovan understands that his obsessions might seem quirky -- his office touchstone is a huge rock -- but what about the chancellor's musical tastes?
"Elvis. The man loves Elvis," he says with a questioning laugh. "We'll both get past these oddities in time, I suspect."
Of his new provost, Boschini says: "Passion for TCU -- we share that. But the man is obsessed with rocks. I really don't get that."
To Donovan, rocks just make sense.
"What better reminder is there that we are all connected?" he says. "The reality is that possibility, creation, innovation, history are all intertwined in the most basic way possible. We all have a place on this sphere called Earth. University students often come here to find that place.
"Faculty, especially those of us who feel called to this profession, each have a unique place as well. All of us who work here are here now for a time. That's the way it works."
Contact Donovan at email@example.com.
Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1952-61 King Edward VII School, Lytham St. Annes, Lancashire, England
1961-66 B.Sc. Honors (Class 2.1), University
of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Newcastle, England
1966-72 Ph.D., University
of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Newcastle, England.