Although different universities have different organization structures, there are a few major components that are fairly constant. A university has two sides to its affairs, the executive and academic. The chain of command on the executive side starts with the board of governors and moves down through the president, the vice presidents and finally, managers. The academic side's highest authority is the senate, followed by the provost, then the deans and department heads.
Board of Governors
Most universities have something like a board of governors at the head of their executive branch, which determines the general goals and priorities of a university. The chairman of the board presides over meetings, but does not hold greater power than other members of the board. The board oversees the government and management of the university's property, revenues and business affairs. The board appoints the president, and he acts on their authority. Members of the board generally have limits to the number of terms they can serve.
The president is the chief executive officer of the university. She oversees all of a university's programs and provides leadership for the entire managerial and academic staff. The president is also responsible for achieving the goals set for the university by the board of governors.
The president is almost always supported by vice presidents who specialize in different areas of university operations, such as campus development, fundraising, finance, research, communications and marketing. They serve as high level managers of their departments and are responsible to the president for accomplishing goals set for their departments. Often, the vice presidents form an advisory council for the president to consult with on issues of university governance and planning.
The senate is in charge of the academic operations of a university. It creates faculties, departments, institutes, research chairs and other positions. Its spending is limited by approval from the board of governors, but it is otherwise mostly autonomous. The chancellor is the ranking member of the senate and holds the authority to grant degrees on behalf of the university. The president serves on the senate as a vice chancellor, and both are generally members of the board of governors.
The provost is appointed by the senate to govern the academic operations of the university in much the same way the president governs its executive operations. The bulk of the provost's work involves overseeing academic programs and student life. The provost and president generally work closely together to ensure that the university meets its academic standards in an effective and cost-efficient manner.
The deans of a university each head a single academic unit or faculty, though the meaning of the term varies from country to country. In the United States, deans can be responsible for academic programs on whole campuses or groups of academic departments. Deans are usually tenured members of the university's faculty. Their duties are primarily administrative, so they are not required to conduct research or instruct students.