Winthrop University academic leader talks job, future
For more than 20 years, Debra Boyd has helped educate students at Winthrop University, seeing new programs come to life and watching the school grow.
Boyd, Winthrop’s provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, will leave her job effective June 30, 2019. After a year-long sabbatical, the former acting president and educator will return to Winthrop to teach in the English department.
“One of the things about my role is I haven’t had the chance to get back into the classroom as I’d like to,” Boyd said. “The reason I got into higher education to begin with was to be in the classroom and teach students. I have always said ... I know where I’ll end my career and it will be in the classroom, so that’s what I am going to do.”
The move takes Boyd’s Winthrop career full circle. She joined the university in 1984 as a temporary instructor before moving into a permanent teaching role. She has held various administrative roles in the English department, including serving as chair of the department. Boyd also was the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and vice president for academic affairs before accepting her current role, which Boyd will have held for eight years when she steps down.
“I’ve had good times and tough times, but I’ve never had a moment at this institution when I wasn’t able to look at someone and say ‘OK let’s work on this together,’” she said. “The Rock Hill community has been incredibly supportive.”
“You think you’ve been here a long time, you know what goes on with the university and you know a lot about it. Well, that was a real learning curve for me,” Boyd said. “That was the year when I saw more than any how people pull together to keep something moving forward. Everybody else did the work, I was just here to remind them we could do it.”
As the leader for Winthrop’s academics, Boyd helps ensure programs and the institution remain in compliance with state and federal regulations and that the university evaluates how programs can better serve students.
“It’s really all for our students,” Boyd said. “I think when students come here they get an extraordinary experience because we pay attention. We make sure every individual student knows that someone on campus is there for them.”
As provost, Boyd serves as second to Winthrop President Dan Mahony in supporting the goals of the university and helps faculty and staff work across their departments to solve problems and improve what they do, she said.
“The best part of being provost is that I’ve had an opportunity to work with people across disciplines,” Boyd said. “There are so many people out there on this campus doing great work. My job is to help them do what they do.”
Boyd said she has enjoyed seeing programs come to life, such as the undergraduate research initiative, in which students work with faculty members on research projects in their field. Winthrop has students participating in research related to cancer, computer science, theater and other areas, and is a national model for undergraduate research, she said.
“It gives students an opportunity to really become engaged in the discipline they are studying and become professionals. It is probably the most intensive form of teaching and learning that we do,” Boyd said.
Boyd has also seen Winthrop grow. The university has added new buildings and refurbished others and more educational programs have been added, including online graduate programs. Winthrop is also working on more paths for nontraditional, working students to complete their degrees, Boyd said.
“We’re really here to educate our students,” she said. “That’s really what hasn’t changed so much; what has changed is how we do it.”
Boyd said higher education’s challenge is to help the general public understand its role.
“Our job is to help people become better educated so they can go out into their communities and be leaders and engaged citizens and do good work,” Boyd said. “Higher education’s role is very complex and we do it very effectively and efficiently.”
Boyd said the state and federal government also needs to better support education.
“We need good teachers at all levels. We look at our culture and value certain things, and we show that value by in many ways what we pay people, so why don’t we do that for teachers,” she said. “These are the individuals who help human beings to realize their full potential.”
During her sabbatical, Boyd said she will be working on a scholarship and preparing to reenter the classroom.
In her last year leading academics, Boyd will be working on a review of Winthrop’s general education program, supporting faculty work and development and helping launch new programs.
“It’s full speed ahead; there’s a lot of work to do,” she said.
Winthrop faculty, staff and student representatives will lead a national search for the next provost.
“During her service to Winthrop as provost, Debra Boyd has played a critical role in continuing to move Winthrop University forward in many ways, while always remaining focused on our students and developing them into engaged citizens and leaders in their professions,” Mahony said in a prepared statement. “Her wisdom and strong leadership have been incredibly valuable to me and all of those who have had the privilege to work with her.”