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Yes, we will miss Provost Jerry Baldasty

This Friday, Jerry Baldasty – my friend and colleague – will walk out of Gerberding Hall as the University of Washington’s provost for the last time. It won’t be his last day on campus or even his last act of service to this University to which he’s already contributed so much. But it will mark the end of an era for me, and for many of us who work, teach and learn here. All of us, in some way, have benefitted from Jerry’s leadership, wisdom and kindness, not just since he became provost, but throughout his four decades of serving the UW.

Jerry joked, recently, that the president’s job is to respond to requests with a smile and something noncommital, whereas the provost’s duty is to come along later and say “what she really meant was no.” And the truth is, good leadership does sometimes require a “no.” When hard decisions have been required, Jerry has not shrunk from them. He has said “no,” with his customary diplomacy, even when “yes” might have been easier, not to mention more pleasant or popular. But let the record reflect: Jerry has also said “yes” quite often, and it’s those fantastic yesses that will be his enduring legacy.

Jerry said “yes” to transforming the Husky Experience, working to ensure that students gain just as much outside the classroom as they do inside – whether studying abroad, conducting research in a lab or taking an internship. He said “yes” to saving the graduate school and “yes” to helping the UW grow into the research powerhouse that it is today. He said “yes” again to creating the Husky 100. And Jerry, who received the UW’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 2000, has said “yes” to countless students as a mentor, teacher and advocate. What I value most about Jerry’s generosity is that with every “yes,” he has helped create a cascade of opportunities for others to say “yes” as well.

After 40 years, the UW has no doubt left its mark on Jerry, but much more significant is the mark Jerry has left on our University. Jerry has built great teams and invests in them his trust and appreciation, growing our ranks of talented, passionate leaders. He has valued scholarship and academic rigor, and worked to enshrine them in our institutional culture. He has been a champion of diversity and advancing the educations and careers of women and people of color. Jerry has given so much to the UW, and I will always be grateful that he postponed his retirement from administration for the first years of my presidency. I will miss working with him, but his legacy of accomplishments here is a great consolation prize that benefits our whole community.