University News

Faculty, students react to Schlissel’s departure

Community members voice concern as one of the strategic plan’s main architects leaves

By
University News Editor
Monday, January 27, 2014

News of Provost Mark Schlissel’s P’15 departure precipitated a range of reactions throughout the Brown community this weekend, including uncertainty about losing a top administrator, pride in a University leader rising to a high-profile position and hope for a new voice on College Hill.

 

‘A loss for Brown’

A number of faculty members said they were shocked to hear the announcement. Many said the provost is leaving in the middle of numerous important changes for Brown that Schlissel himself initiated.

“It’s unfortunate to lose a provost that early,” said Professor of Computer Science Eli Upfal, adding that Schlissel’s three-year tenure “is not enough to have significant long-term change.”

“I was personally surprised by what appears to be Mark’s sudden departure,” wrote Harold Roth, professor of religious studies and East Asian studies, in an email to The Herald.

The provost’s exit is particularly shocking due to his significant contributions to the strategic plan and the improvements he made to the Office of the Provost, Roth wrote.

“It’s a loss for Brown that he’ll not be continuing,” said Catherine Kerr, assistant professor of family medicine, who served on the Brown University Community Council with Schlissel. “He has played a big role in helping to generate the strategic plan and the plan for Brown’s growth.”

In contrast to many faculty members’ concerns, Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Beppie Huidekoper said the timing of Schlissel’s departure fits well with the current stage of the strategic plan.

“We’re operationalizing now, so it’s a good time for someone to come in,” she said. “If it were a year from now or a year ago, it would have been harder.”

Kerr said she still believes the provost’s changes and plans will “continue uninterrupted,” though “there will be a transition period.”

“It’s always inconvenient in some respects” to have an administrator leave, said Marc Redfield, professor of English and comparative literature. “The fact that we have a new president that represents a new and important era overshadows that.”

 

A fond farewell

Overall, many community members said they were happy for Schlissel’s achievement and that he will leave a legacy at Brown.

“I will totally miss him, and I am really happy for him,” Huidekoper said. “It’s the kind of challenge that Mark will thrive in.”

“Mark spoke a lot about Brown having an impact, and that message has resonated,” she continued, noting Schlissel’s role in separating the Alpert Medical School and the School of Public Health and his ability to unify academic department chairs around difficult issues.

“He quickly mastered the intricacies of his position and successfully led planning for the next capital campaign,” wrote John Savage, professor of computer science, in an email to The Herald. “I am sure that he will be very successful at Michigan.”

Undergraduate Council of Students Vice President Sam Gilman ’15 said Schlissel will take on “one of the most important jobs” in American higher education as president of the University of Michigan.

“I think he is a very deliberate and thoughtful leader who has brought a lot to Brown,” Gilman said. “I think that that will translate really well to (Michigan).”

“He was always really receptive to us and to hearing our concerns,” said Todd Harris ’14.5, UCS president. “I think he’s going to do a great job.”

But many undergraduates had little reaction to Schlissel’s departure. Roughly two dozen students interviewed expressed no opinion about the news. Many did not know who the provost was or what his position entailed.

 

Looking forward

Many community members have already set their sights on the search for a new provost.

Roth wrote that the University should consider only internal candidates for the position, citing Brown’s “excellent talent pool.” It is important for the new provost to have “long-term experience with the unique ethos that has made Brown such a stellar place to learn and teach,” he added.

Savage wrote that the new provost should be a physical scientist to maintain academic balance among the top three members of the University’s administration, referring to Paxson, an economics scholar, and Dean of the Faculty Kevin McLaughlin P’12, a former professor of English, who represent the social sciences and humanities, respectively.

Harris and Gilman are focused on ensuring student involvement in the search process.

“I reached out to the Office of the President, and we’ll definitely be in conversation with them about the search process and how students are going to be involved,” Harris said.

“We do these searches in the Brown way, which is you get all of the stakeholders to conduct a very thorough search,” Gilman said.

 

-With additional reporting by Caroline Kelly and Molly Schulson