Provost Ralph J. Hexter

Celebrating Ralph J. Hexter

Provost Ralph J. Hexter
A Celebration of Service

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter        

Celebrating his contributions to UC Davis

This summer, Ralph Hexter steps down from his position of Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor, a position he has held for nearly a decade. He also served for over a year as Acting and then Interim Chancellor. Throughout, he has served as a Distinguished Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature—and will continue to do so. Ralph Hexter’s successor will indeed find capacious footwear to fill.

Inimitably friendly, upbeat, witty, supportive, learned, articulate, and intellectually formidable, Provost Hexter resembles some of the great figures he studies: Socrates, who loved wisdom, justice, and dialogue; the poet Virgil, who celebrated agricultural and veterinary sciences; and Augustus Caesar, who “found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble.”

This online tribute is offered to express the university’s deep gratitude for Provost Hexter’s many invaluable contributions to UC Davis as a university leader, as well as to chisel in marble some of his exceptional achievements and qualities.



In Their Own Words

Aggies who know him best share some fond memories


Leadership Highlights

  • In his roles as Provost, Acting Chancellor, and Interim Chancellor, safely steered the university through multiple campus crises. As chief academic officer, kept the university on an upward trajectory of all-around excellence and positive impact on the world.
  • Championed an environment dedicated to diversity, equity, inclusion, mutual respect, and civility, as well as freedom of research, scholarship, thought, and expression.
  • Worked to maximize support for programs in all disciplines and professions.
  • Helped to lead UC Davis’ remarkable growth over the last several years in enrollment and faculty positions as prescribed by the 2020 Initiative.
  • Had a major impact on the makeup of university administration, recruiting all but one of the 17 Deans and Vice Provosts currently serving in their roles.
  • Presided over the creation of major new facilities, including the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, the International Center, the Betty Irene Moore Hall of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis Health, California Hall, and the renovated Walker Hall (scheduled to open in the fall).


The Abridged Provost Hexter

Selected excerpts from his speeches and writings, 2011-2020


A university does not and should not emulate a factory, working in a narrowly focused and highly efficient way to produce useful knowledge and technologies. A university will rightly pursue certain practical activities, but it is dedicated first and foremost to disinterested intellectual exploration, a journey guided by the researcher’s curiosity, not by the possibility of profit or practical usefulness. A university is founded on the idea that this sort of disinterested exploration is immensely beneficial to society, and that no other institution is as well qualified as the university to perform it.

Remarks to the Symposium prior to the 23rd International Conference on Supersymmetry and Unification of Fundamental Interactions, 2015


Read More Excerpts


A Hexter Glossary

Words he has been known to use in conversation.


From ancient Greek, “to say no”: In rhetoric, to bring up a subject by either denying it or denying that it should be brought up.


A character in Plato’s Gorgias who argues the position of an oligarchic amoralist.


1. Founder and first queen of Carthage, depicted, for example, in Virgil’s Aeneid and Henry Purcell’s Baroque opera Dido and Aeneas. 2. Not the contemporary English singer Dido Florian Cloud de Bounevialle O’Malley Armstrong, known professionally as Dido.


Latin: “dignity, seriousness, or solemnity of manner.”


Latin: “Let it be printed.”

Interpretive generosity

The virtuous disposition to first consider a different viewpoint, even if it appears mistaken, with an open-minded and generous attitude.

Hapax legomenon

From ancient Greek, “being said only once”: a word that occurs only once within a context, either in the written record of an entire language, in the works of an author, or in a single text.

Mutatis mutandis

Medieval Latin: “with things changed that should be changed.”


Latin poems ascribed to Ovid in the Middle Ages, reflecting the later  “reception” of the Latin poet, who died in the first century BCE. See Appendix Ovidiana, edited and translated by Ralph Hexter, Laura Pfunter, and Justin Haynes (2020), hardcover $35 from Harvard University Press.


The study of literary texts and oral and written records, involving textual criticism, literary criticism, history, and/or linguistics.


Resourceful; according to a plan.


A platinum-selling Barbadian recording artist and performer, songwriter, actor, and businessperson whose vocal artistry, while impressive, is exceeded by that of the great twentieth-century opera singer Maria Callas.