From Poli. Prof. to Provost

    Last September, a new provost was appointed to Eleanor Roosevelt College. His name is Alan Houston, and he’s a political-science professor, award-winning scholar, father of two and die-hard fan of Stephen Colbert (sorry, Stewart-philes).

    “I totally adore the Colbert Report,” Houston said. “Oh, yeah. He’s a genius.”

    For the last two decades Houston has worked at all levels in the political-science department — from teaching freshmen to advising graduate student dissertations. Before he came to UCSD, he taught at both Columbia University and Harvard University.

    To top off his Ivy prestige, Houston snagged a few awards in the meantime.

    His Harvard dissertation on revolutionary political writer Algernon Sidney was awarded the Leo Strauss Award in political philosophy from the American Political Science Association in 1990.

    According to the new provost, one of his favorite jobs has been teaching undergraduates.

    “I’ve been teaching a freshman seminar at ERC that I taught in the fall, and am now continuing to teach,” Houston said. “And that’s one of the most electric and lively parts of my week. I totally enjoy that.”

    Now that he’s stepped over to administration, Houston said his schedule has become much more hectic.

    “A fair portion of my day is spent either meeting with individuals or with groups who are running the college… It’s meetings, meetings, meetings, meetings. There are faculty to meet with, and students to talk to, and I still have both undergraduate and graduate students I’m working with on projects — so it’s a busy full day.”

    Despite the added workload, Houston said he already feels like part of the ERC community.

    “This is exactly where I want to be, doing what I want to do,” Houston said. “This is a very hard time for the UC system and for the colleges, but I’m happy to be here and to be a part of figuring out how to get through those problems.”

    Houston said his top concern is dealing with the budget cuts, which — as students confront fee hikes and faculty are dealt furloughs — will make next year one of the most difficult in university history.

    “I know that maintaining the quality and integrity of undergraduate education is the most important thing I can do for students,” Houston said. “As the costs grow for students, we need to work very hard to ensure that the quality of their education — as well as services and resources offered — remain strong.”

    In addition, by the end of his term as provost, Houston said he hopes to meet the oft-neglected needs of ERC transfer students. According to Houston, the founding model for UCSD was originally designed for freshmen, but the transfer-student population is increasing.

    “Transfer students are an important part of our student body, and their needs and concerns are sometimes different from those of the four-year students,” Houston said. “I want to pay attention to that, and help our college create a fully integrated model for them.”

    Another of his goals is establishing more intimate ties with the student body. Having attended a small liberal-arts college as an undergraduate, Houston said he thrived on the personal interaction he experienced with his professors; in fact, it inspired him to pursue a career teaching political science. Although such one-on-one interaction is rarer at a large public university like UCSD, Houston said the university’s unique college system lets students feel more at home.

    Within ERC, Houston said he’s committed to the college’s mission: enable students to live as globally minded as possible.

    “I think it actually soaks in, and I think people really come to identity with MMW,” said Houston. “They end up thinking, ‘Hey, that was the coolest class.’”

    He said he wants to prepare students to succeed in a multicultural world that is not “defined narrowly by nations, states or single cultures.”

    “The basic mission of ERC is clear, and doesn’t need to be tinkered with,” Houston said. “But allowing it to grow and thrive in this changing budget is going to be the biggest challenge.”

    Readers can contact Kelly Kim at [email protected].

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