By Dudley Brown
Dr. Tim Schmitz describes his career at Wofford College and being named its fourth provost as a “stroke of good fortune.”
He arrived at Wofford 23 years ago as an assistant professor of history.
“I certainly didn’t come to Wofford thinking I’d be in this position,” Schmitz says. “I was focused on getting a degree and getting a job. Getting a tenure-track job in history feels like an insurmountable task on its own, and I felt so fortunate to be offered the job at Wofford. It turned out to be a good place to be.”
Schmitz chaired the history department from 2010-14 before serving as associate provost for administration for seven years. He was interim provost for 14 months before being named provost in November. He has also served on numerous campus committees over the years.
“I’ve enjoyed collaborating with people across campus so often over the last 20 years, and I think it’s all of the meaningful relationships that define this place,” Schmitz says. “Experience and knowledge of the place, I hope, helps me in this new role.”
Schmitz’s problem-solving skills and work ethic most likely stem from a Midwestern upbringing that involved a newspaper delivery route at age 9. He’s self-deprecating while acknowledging how cliche it sounds, especially when adding that he stopped delivering newspapers to accept a job at a supermarket when he was 15.
Some summers were spent working with the facilities team of the local school district painting, mowing grass and troubleshooting on the job, including the use of a car jack to hoist bleachers at an athletic field. He also had summer jobs in Estes Park, Colo., at a cookie and ice cream shop, and at a Mexican restaurant as a line cook. In graduate school he started spending summers working for the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth summer program, for which he taught and later worked as a site director.
“In any of those jobs, and particularly in the setting of a residential summer program, you quickly realize that there’s a certain amount of work to be done, and if you’re a member of a team, you’ve just got to throw yourself in and do it.”
Schmitz studied history as an undergrad at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with plans of going to law school. A course on the Reformation by a historian of Spain named Geoffrey Parker, who became a mentor, led him to change his career path. Midway through his senior year, he decided to pursue advanced degrees in history after accepting a graduate fellowship from Indiana University Bloomington.
Both of his parents were teachers. His dad spent 37 years teaching history at the local high school, and his mother taught second grade.
Looking back, Schmitz recognizes that his family and life in the small university town of Charleston, Ill., home of Eastern Illinois University, influenced him.
“It would have been a small, fairly isolated, mostly agricultural community without the university,” he says. Instead, the college was essential to the identity of the town, and his friends were often children of faculty. Two classmates in his 209-person high school graduating class went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“I grew up witnessing academic lives lived, and I was internalizing things that I didn’t realize until much later in my life,” Schmitz says. “It was an enormous gift to grow up in that town at that moment in its history.”
Despite attending a large state university, Wofford’s small size appealed to him. He was one of 700 history majors as an undergraduate at Illinois; when he arrived on Wofford’s campus in 2000, the college had an enrollment of 1,100. (Wofford has 1,803 students today.) He recalls wandering around the campus in search of the swimming pool before realizing there wasn’t one.
Schmitz, however, soon embraced what makes Wofford unique.
“Early on, I could tell this place was different. I’d go running around the practice fields in the late afternoon, and I’d end up joining David Wood (athletics director at the time) and Danny Morrison (former athletics director and commissioner of the Southern Conference at the time) as they did the same thing,” Schmitz says. “They made me feel welcome and like a part of the community, even though I was very new to Wofford, Spartanburg and the South.”
Schmitz appreciates the Wofford community, including how well faculty know their students and how they are willing to work together on their students’ behalf. He also understands the commitment of the college’s faculty.
On a larger campus, Schmitz says he would mainly teach in his primary areas of interest, which is early modern Spain. At Wofford he was able to teach about the late Roman Empire, the French Revolution, the Spanish Civil War and numerous humanities courses on different topics of his choosing.
“I was able to teach courses matched to the variety of my interests as well as to the needs of our students,” Schmitz says. “The magic of these places is how we create opportunities for our students. We’re so invested in them; we try to meet their needs. Here, I was also able to create the sort of career I wanted to have — both developing these different courses and pursuing a balance of teaching and scholarly work.”
Schmitz’s research and publications focus on early modern Spanish history. In February, he presented at a conference in Lisbon, Portugal, examining the musical and liturgical tradition of the Order of St. Jerome. His presentation examined the relationship between the Spanish monarchy and the order’s monks during the Catholic Reformation.
Schmitz believes that both he and his faculty colleagues must continue to ponder a simple question: “What does it mean to be a liberal arts college in the 21st century?” He points out that Wofford’s faculty and programs do an outstanding job of preparing students to go out into the world, “but I think we need to reexamine what the core requirements of a college major are. Are there ways to introduce a bit more flexibility and opportunity into the undergraduate experience?” He adds, “Beyond completing a major, what do we want a graduate to have experienced or done?”
Schmitz wants to see opportunities for student- faculty and faculty research continue to grow. He would like to devote more effort to enhancing the college’s curricular and cocurricular programs while increasing the integration of academic affairs with the Career Center, the Center for Community-Based Learning and the Office of International Programs.
Schmitz wasn’t actively looking for a provost job. He enjoyed his roles on campus and living in Spartanburg with his wife, Dr. Catherine Schmitz, professor of French at Wofford, and their 14-year-old daughter, Juliette, and two beagles. They live in a 97-year-old federal- style house in Hampton Heights, a seven- minute drive from campus.
“We really love Spartanburg. It’s such a good place to call home,” says Schmitz, who is grateful for the opportunity for professional development and career growth, all while serving Wofford for more than two decades.
He also has times when he can’t believe where he’s sitting.
“I sometimes sit here and think, how can I be in Dan Maultsby’s office?” says Schmitz. Maultsby ’61, was the dean of the college for 27 years. “Dean Maultsby hired me, and I have always admired his kind, calm and good-humored leadership.”
Schmitz has witnessed growth and transformation at Wofford while the college has maintained its sense of community. A strategic plan to increase enrollment was successful. The endowment is up, and the college regularly makes national ranking lists, including those touting the high percentage of students studying abroad and Wofford’s return on investment.
“Wofford is in a good place, and in most measures, we’ve never been better,” Schmitz says.
By Dudley Brown