During her more than three decades at the University of Richmond, Joan Neff has played an instrumental role in that institution’s ascent from regional to national prominence. As a professor, department chair, and since 2009 associate provost, she has been front and center as Richmond broadened its reach and impact without sacrificing its sense of community and committed teaching culture.

Getting to know Longwood closely in recent months, she came to see much the same potential – and wanted to be a part of it.

In an email to campus earlier today March 10, President W. Taylor Reveley IV introduced Neff as Longwood’s next provost and vice president for academic affairs – the university’s chief academic officer. A national search for the position began this past fall, led by the chair of Longwood’s Faculty Senate, David Lehr. This summer, Neff will succeed Ken Perkins, who announced at the beginning of this academic year he planned to step down as provost after the spring semester.

"The remarkable quality of our applicant pool is a tremendous testament to Longwood and our momentum here. But as I have gotten to know Joan, she has stood out, and deeply impressed me as someone with the values, vision and experience to lead the academic enterprise at Longwood, building on the great work of Ken Perkins," Reveley said. "What Joan has helped Richmond to accomplish is remarkable, and her enthusiasm for Longwood and its public mission is palpable and invigorating."

Neff said that in visiting campus during the search process, she discovered a place whose spirit resonated with her own commitment to student-centered teaching, but also an institution with the drive to be a leader in American higher education.

"Longwood’s reputation in Virginia, its long history, its strong traditions and core strengths are what caught my eye, along with its sense of purpose and mission," Neff said. "As a graduate of two public universities myself, I feel a deep connection to the concept of a public comprehensive university strongly rooted in the liberal arts, firmly committed to affordability and accessibility."

Neff, who received her undergraduate degree from the University of Delaware and her M.A. and doctorate in sociology from The Ohio State University, is a widely noted scholar in the field of criminology and the author of numerous publications. Among her most recent honors, she was a nominee for the American Society of Criminology Teaching Award in 2014, and recipient of the Crime Victims’ Rights Award from the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. She also has an extensive record of community service, advising organizations and public bodies on matters such as incarceration policy and victim assistance.

Neff said she is thrilled to be joining the tight-knit Longwood community. She has three children – Jennifer, 31, Patrick, 28, and Samantha, 24 – and four grandchildren, all under the age of five. Her husband, Mike Banks, is a photographer.

In her spare time, she has two main hobbies, each using hands and feet, though in very distinct ways. A longtime musician, she is an accomplished church organist.

And she is a fourth-degree black belt in Tae Kwan Do.

"There’s a lot of discipline involved in being a musician, too," she said with a modest laugh. "They actually work pretty well together."

[See: On liberal arts, fine arts and martial arts—10 questions for Longwood's next provost, Joan Neff]

As associate provost at the University of Richmond, Neff has worked in nearly all facets of its academic enterprise, in particular faculty enrichment, budgeting and curriculum revision. From 2009-2011, she served as the provost’s liaison to Richmond’s curriculum revision task force.

"In her distinguished career here, Joan has earned the respect and admiration of the entire University of Richmond community," said University of Richmond President Ed Ayers. "She is a strong leader, and a kind, delightful colleague. She has been involved deeply in virtually every aspect of academic life on our campus.

"We are sorry to lose her, but Longwood is a perfect fit for her next challenge," Ayers continued. "Having moved between public and private institutions myself, I am confident Joan will make this transition seamlessly and thrive. She is as prepared as one could be for the challenges and opportunities we all face in higher education – ensuring student success, nurturing faculty, and building financial strength for the future."

Neff’s appointment concludes an extensive national search that attracted more than 90 applicants for the position. Six finalists visited campus in recent weeks for meetings with the search committee, President Reveley, faculty, staff and students. The search committee, consisting of nine faculty members and all six of Longwood’s academic deans, as well as representatives for students and staff, recommended a pool of three finalists to President Reveley, who made his decision after spending extensive time with each and deliberating with the Board of Visitors.

"We are so excited to welcome Dr. Neff to Longwood," said Lehr, the university’s Faculty Senate chair who led the search committee. "The search committee worked with such dedication and camaraderie throughout this process. Her dynamic leadership will help the university navigate the significant changes ahead in higher education, while strengthening the core values that distinguish us as a public university with a broad liberal arts focus."

Neff said a substantial part of the draw of Longwood was its size – a place with a scale suited to stability and prosperity, but also the human-scale interaction that is difficult at the many public universities that have pursued rapid growth.

"My first love, my first commitment, has been teaching and working with students. I picked that up as a primary focus at Longwood," she said. "Longwood is a place where you find teaching on a human scale, while at the same time providing faculty and students with an opportunity to do research, and in very meaningful collaborative ways that larger institutions may not be able to accomplish.

Because of its size, she said, "Longwood’s core mission can be defined and integrated and cohesive in a way other institutions’ cannot, and continuing to build that culture will be my own focus as I continue to get to know the campus and get to work."

Reveley said Neff will be visiting campus regularly over the rest of the semester, and will officially assume office July 1.

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