Davis Wends Way To GVSU

March 3, 2003
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — Gayle Davis has been flirting with serendipity and now, as the provost of Grand Valley State University, she is ready to settle down in Grand Rapids.

Davis had a long drive to GVSU. It was one full of chance and circumstance, she said, but still very enjoyable.

After completing her bachelor's degree, graduate degree and doctorate degree at Michigan State University, Davis was ready to look for a job. It just so happened, however, that the country was in the midst of double-digit unemployment and job hunting was a national pastime.

Then she discovered a job posting at MSU that offered a temporary job in administration at Wichita State University. The job was scheduled to last between six months and a year.

"I packed up my dog and books and we were on the road to Wichita, Kansas, to work at Wichita State for a short period of time," said Davis. "Twenty-one years later I was still there."

During her "temporary" stay, the faculty member Davis was filling in for decided to take another position and Davis' position became a permanent one. Davis spent 13 years as a faculty member at Wichita State and eight years as an administrator.

She said she never anticipated becoming a provost, but when serendipity came knocking again she couldn't refuse.

"A former colleague came to work at Grand Valley and nominated me for the position and asked me to apply," said Davis. "I have always loved Grand Valley and had spent time in Michigan when I was at Michigan State. My husband and I travel up north, north of Traverse City, for vacation and always drive through the area, so it was the perfect decision."

From the beginning, GVSU was a school Davis was very aware of. She said early in her career, when she was thinking of going into higher education, GVSU was just getting started and over the years the school kept her interest as it evolved. Davis said she admired Grand Valley's focus on liberal arts and how, with 20,000 students and graduate students, the university was able to stay so devoted to them.

"That really is the core of our mission," said Davis. "But we also do great research and are able to focus on that as well."

Since starting at GVSU last July, Davis has worked to understand and learn more about the school's mission. She stressed that it is important to her to experience everything, meet with every group possible and make it known that it is not her intention to put her own mark on things without fully knowing the university.

"It has been just what I wanted it to be: busy. And I am glad for that because I really don't want to jump in not knowing what is going on," said Davis. "That is why I spent the first four to five months trying to orientate myself with the place and the inner workings of the school. It is not my intention to take over and change things the first day in the door."

The past few months, Davis said, have been improving. It is no longer a time of attending meetings and asking questions, but more of listening and tossing out ideas.

As the provost of GVSU, Davis is in charge of both faculty and student academic affairs. She added that the definition of a provost is different from school to school. Her position is located between the president and the deans, with the provost reporting to the president and the deans reporting to the provost.

In addition to all things academic, Davis has additional responsibilities including chair of the faculty and student senate as well as attending to several executive affairs and working with the university budget.

While Davis' life is not all about work, one of her current after-school projects has been a lot of hard work. Davis has been working on a book about women's collaborative art galleries.

Her work on the project began in the early '70s when she conducted research on groups of women artists who started cooperatively financed professional art galleries at the height of the visibility of the women's movement.

She had chosen a dozen galleries that were similar and started her analysis. At the same time, President Ronald Reagan was elected and Davis realized there would be some changes for nonprofit groups.  That led her to conduct another exploration 10 years later of the same galleries to see if each survived the political changes.

A decade later, when Davis had completed her research and was ready to write, President Bill Clinton took office and more changes were predicted. She then determined that she really needed to look at the evolution and changes over a generation, which is defined as 30 years. That 30 years ended in 2001 and for now the book sits ready for its final edits. Davis continues to dabble in her other loves: art history, architecture and the humane treatment of animals, all the while learning the ropes at GVSU.

"This is an exciting job and it is great how all of these things have worked to bring me here," said Davis. "In working with so many aspects of the university there are many things worth getting up for."           

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