Peter Davies, MD, PhD, is the first provost for The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), an appointment he received January 26, 2010. Davies, who also serves as executive vice president for research, joined the faculty of the Department of Pharmacology and Integrative Biology at UTHealth Medical School in 1979.
UTHealth Magazine sat down with Davies for a brief interview to learn more about his new role as provost.
UTHealth Magazine: What is the role of the provost at UTHealth?
The provost will serve as the chief academic officer. I will work with the deans and president to coordinate and develop the academic programs of the university. We have a broader palate to work with than most universities. Our educational and research programs span four very distinct health science disciplines. We have major programs in the clinical sciences, the population sciences and the laboratory sciences as well as in the information sciences. Each of these disciplines is quite distinct with different styles of education and different types of research. There are great opportunities to bring these disciplines together, to create new opportunities for interdisciplinary training and research. I look forward to playing a role in helping to make this happen, working with our deans and the UTHealth leadership to create new programs that can bridge the gaps between these different areas. One of the reasons that it is so important to build new interdisciplinary programs is that we are in the midst of a period of dramatic change in the health sciences; we need to reflect an awareness of these changes within our educational and research programs. First and foremost, we have to make sure that the students we graduate today will be prepared to live, work and lead in the new environment that is unfolding before us. Similarly in research, we have to make sure our researchers are equipped and prepared to make great contributions to the advancement of each of the health sciences in the years to come.
UTHealth Magazine: After a large, five-month national search to fill the provost position, with many candidates vying for it, UTHealth found its first provost on its home turf. Did that surprise you?
The university has often reached within its own ranks to find talent and to solve problems. I have seen the university mature during my more than 30 years here, and I can see the great strengths within our own institution. These strengths include the many talented people who work here and make this such a great place at which to work. There are times when it is a very good idea to reach outside our ranks to identify new talents and fresh ideas. The recruitment of Dr. Kaiser from the University of Pennsylvania is a good example of the great value of bringing in leaders from the outside. On the other hand, many of our outstanding deans have been recruited from within the university and this has served us very well. I am personally delighted to have been selected for the job. I met some of the candidates for the provost position and was impressed with their talents and qualifications but I must say that I take it as a great vote of confidence that President Kaiser ultimately decided to ask me to take this job.
UTHealth Magazine: You currently serve as both the chief academic officer and the executive vice president for research. Is this a common model?
This is a natural marriage of the two. When you think about it, in our schools and in the careers of our faculty, education and research are completely integrated, woven together, as our new logo suggests. It has been an administrative convenience to separate research and academic affairs. One of my goals is to ensure that we bring these two concepts back to a single vision of what we as a university must do to fulfill our promise.
UTHealth Magazine: How will the provost position change the university’s daily operations?
In reality, it won’t. The organic life of the university will not change. The job of the provost will be reflected much more in new opportunities for innovative programming and collaborative endeavors among the schools and departments.
UTHealth Magazine: Who were your mentors who modeled leadership skills that you admire?
The real answer is that, as in life, it’s a mosaic, an amalgam of those one meets along the way. I have picked up bits and pieces of wisdom, advice and examples from many outstanding mentors, friends and colleagues I have had the opportunity to work with over the years. There is no one model, but a marvelous collection of people to whom I owe a great gratitude for showing me how to contribute to the university and how to show the skills of leadership.