President Andrew T. Hsu announced Wednesday, April 1, 2020, the appointment of Suzanne Austin as the College of Charleston’s next provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.
Austin will succeed Interim Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Frances C. Welch, who took on the role in May of 2019. Austin will begin at CofC on July 1, 2020.
With a career spanning nearly three decades in academia, Austin, who holds a doctorate in history from Duke University, has spent the last nine years serving as the senior vice provost and senior international officer at the University of Alabama at Birmingham where she has led a series of initiatives focused on student success, faculty development, international programs and online learning.
“Suzanne Austin is an incredible addition to the College of Charleston’s leadership team. She possesses both a strong academic pedigree and a tremendous track record of success throughout her career,” Hsu said in a message to the campus community. “These attributes, combined with her laser focus on student success, faculty success and her experience in implementing and executing strategic plans, make her a great fit for our university.”
For Austin, the College’s forward momentum under Hsu along with the pending launch of the institution’s new strategic plan are what appealed to her most about joining CofC.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity to work with all of the students, faculty and staff at the College of Charleston,” says Austin. “I’ve known about the College for a long time and have visited the campus several times over the years. I know what an excellent academic institution the College is, and the opportunity to serve the institution is very exciting to me.”
The College’s search for a new provost was led by Alicia Caudill, executive vice president for student affairs, and Simon Lewis, English professor and speaker of the Faculty Senate. R. William Funk & Associates assisted in the search. Members of the College’s search committee included faculty, deans and administrators from across campus.
Since joining the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) in 2011, Austin has spearheaded initiatives to improve retention and graduation of students, established UAB’s first-ever Undergraduate Academic Success Center, redesigned and expanded the UAB Honors College, created the Office of Student Engagement to focus on at-risk students, developed and launched the Office of Global Engagement and expanded the Division of eLearning and Professional Studies, among many other successful academic efforts.
Austin hopes to help shepherd similar endeavors at CofC. During her visit to campus in March, Austin spoke with deans, chairs and faculty about opportunities for faculty development as well as possibilities related to new academic programs at the College.
“It’s clear there are many exciting initiatives already underway and these will continue to move forward over the summer and into the fall,” Austin says.
Prior to joining UAB, Austin spent 20 years at the University of Delaware serving in a variety of academic positions including as associate provost for academic affairs and faculty director for the Office of the Vice Provost for Research and Graduate Studies.
Growing up in Madison, Connecticut, Austin, from a young age, had an interest in learning about new places and people, a curiosity which ultimately drove her to study English and journalism as an undergraduate student at North Carolina State University before pursuing a graduate degree in history from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
As she followed her career into academia, Austin became fascinated by the rich history and culture of Latin America – which led her on many international adventures.
“Since I am a historian of Latin America, I love traveling in that part of the world,” says Austin. “I have lived in Mexico and Ecuador, but I love traveling everywhere.”
And her passion for understanding how the past intersects with the present made moving to Charleston, a location steeped in history, all the more attractive.
“I love traveling and exploring new places, and I am very excited about exploring the Charleston area,” she says.
As a historian of colonial Latin America, Austin has focused her research on the demography and epidemiology of the Andean region. Her 2003 book, A Pest in the Land: New World Epidemics in a Global Perspective, studies disease among the native peoples of the New World before and after 1492 – a topic which has relevant parallels to current global events.
Nearly two decades after publishing A Pest in the Land, Austin says the impact of disease 400 years ago and what we are experiencing now with the coronavirus pandemic bears some striking similarities.
“The similarities around what happens to social networks and the delivery of social services during times of epidemic or pandemic disease are remarkable,” she says. “The source of stresses COVID-19 puts on individuals and on communities is similar in many ways to what occurred throughout Spain’s American colonies during the 16th and 17th centuries.”
But the ongoing disruptions around the world – and the related impacts on institutions of higher education like the College – are challenges that Austin is not afraid to tackle as she prepares to help CofC move forward.
“I think we’ll all come through this stronger – we may be different in some ways, but I think we’ll be stronger as institutions and as a nation,” she says.