On the day that 18-year-old Michelle Jarvis moved into her third-floor Schwitzer Hall room, if you had told her that someday she would be named Butler University’s Associate Provost, she would have laughed. Jarvis had come here to dance, not to work in academic administration.
“I don’t think that would have ever crossed my mind or I ever would have believed what you were telling me,” she said, sitting in her new Jordan Hall office after more than three decades in Lilly Hall. “Now, being a teacher, being an educator, working in a university program? Yes. I would have fallen into that pretty quickly and believed that. I liked what I was doing when I got here, and I saw what was happening and what was possible.”
Jarvis, who grew up in suburban Detroit, started studying dance as a small child and chose Butler based on its “well-deserved” reputation for having both a great ballet program and demanding academics. After finishing her bachelor’s degree, she took a teaching position at another university.
“Choreography was really calling me at the time,” she said, “and to be a good choreographer, you have to have good dancers. So you have to teach them.”
And to teach them, she needed an advanced degree. So Jarvis returned to Butler—and never left. After earning her master’s degree, teaching for several years in the Special Instruction Division (which became the Jordan Academy of Dance), and performing with Dance Kaleidoscope and Indianapolis Ballet Theatre, she started as an Assistant Professor of Dance in 1986. Over the years, she moved up from Professor to Dance Department Chair, then Associate Dean of the Jordan College of the Arts, Interim Dean of the College (twice), and, now, Associate Provost.
Her new role includes administrative oversight of the core curriculum, which she describes as “a living, breathing activity that is the foundation of all our academic work and should be ever-changing, ever-developing, ever-growing, and leading our students down the right paths to become critical and creative thinkers and lifelong learners by addressing their academic curiosity.” She will provide administrative oversight for the Center for High Achievement and Scholarly Engagement (CHASE), and will be working on faculty policies and procedures, best practices for student advising, retention, and degree completion.
Although Jarvis has made the transformation from faculty to administrator, the arts are never far away. The walls of her new office are decorated with professional artwork as well as photos of dancers and art by students from the Art + Design program. She plans to use her creativity to advocate for students and faculty, and she also looks forward to teaching a course each semester.
“I haven’t left the arts,” she said. “Dance is my identity. I haven’t moved on to something else. It’s the next step in a career that has advocated for higher education, students, and student growth and development. I’ve just stepped on to the next place in my career, which is an extraordinary opportunity.”