With a scientist's passion, NU's new provost dissects the academic ecosystem

    Provost Daniel Linzer in his office. Photo by Derek Tam / North by Northwestern

    Daniel Linzer, Northwestern’s new provost, only solves The New York Times crossword puzzles on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

    Just the facts

    • Name: Daniel Linzer
    • Age: 53
    • Education: Bachelor of Science in molecular biology and biochemistry at Yale; doctorate in biochemical science at Princeton; post-doctorate in biochemistry, molecular biology and cell biology at Johns Hopkins Medical School
    • Years at Northwestern: 24
    • Positions held: assistant professor, associate professor, full professor, associate dean and dean of Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences
    • Home state: New Jersey
    • Management philosophy: “Do a lot of listening. No one knows everything, and to make the best decisions, you have to listen to a lot of people. Northwestern has a lot of smart people.”

    “The other days aren’t enough of a challenge,” he said, “which only goes to show you how long I’ve been doing them.”

    Papers spill out of three-ring binders on his desk and the walls of his new office are bare and still smell of fresh paint. With a background in science and research, Linzer became provost of the university in September and is still settling into his new office, where books that don’t belong to him still pack the tall shelves—“books that the provost left,” he said.

    The former provost, Lawrence Dumas, left for medical reasons.

    “No one was planning for the position to open up,” Linzer said. “[Dumas] had been very successful as a provost, so the president had to choose a new provost at very short notice. I think I was asked because [Weinberg] has the broadest range and therefore I probably had more experience of all the academic areas than the other deans.”

    The former dean of Weinberg, Linzer speaks slowly. With his jacket draped over his desk chair, he sits up straight, but still seems relaxed. His gray-green suit complements his salt-and-pepper hair. The only contradiction to his polished appearance are the scuffed toes of his wine-colored loafers.

    “[Linzer] had literally weeks to make the decision to leave the dean position and become provost,” his successor and interim dean of Weinberg, Aldon Morris, said. “[He] absolutely loved being dean of the college, so it was intellectually wrenching for him to leave the job he loved.”

    So, what is a provost?

    • Linzer said the provost is the University’s “chief academic officer.” He oversees all academic-related units of the administration, including each of the specific schools at Northwestern.
    • The provost manages museums, performance spaces, research and other services.
    • All 12 of Northwestern’s deans report to the provost.

    During his tenure as dean of Weinberg, Linzer expanded the college’s course offerings, with an emphasis on improving the undergraduate experience with lab and research work — a subject whose mention gets the otherwise stoic former professor of biochemistry, molecular biology and cell biology talking fast. He breaks his calm demeanor when explaining his studies at Yale, Princeton and Johns Hopkins, leaning forward excitedly to mime the movement of flagella with his hands during a detailed explanation of his work with viruses, hormones, bacteria and cancer cells.

    “Science is about identifying important issues and figuring out how to solve them,” Linzer said. “I see a lot of similarities in doing science and serving as an administrator.”

    Though his specialty is in science, co-workers say Linzer’s open-mindedness helps him work with any department at Northwestern. As dean of Weinberg, he and his wife Jennifer hosted events for faculty in their own home.

    “When he was first appointed as dean, he was firmly a biologist and I think there were some skeptical views in the college,” Morris said. “[But] during his time as dean elect he went to all the departments to talk to them and learn about them. I was struck by his openness, his ability to listen and his grace.”

    In the coming year, Linzer’s responsibilities will expand to include overseeing plans, goals, projects and the allocation of resources to individual academic areas of the university. His attentive biologist’s passion suggests he will handle the job carefully — as he would a job in a lab.


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