University News

Vice President for Research to step down

Clyde Briant will leave the administration to return to the engineering faculty starting next year

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, January 31, 2013

The internal search for a new vice president for research will begin in the coming week as a committee evaluates current senior faculty members.

Vice President for Research Clyde Briant will be stepping down from his administrative position at the end of the academic year, Provost Mark Schlissel P’15 wrote Wednesday in an email to faculty.

Briant, who served as dean of engineering between 2003 and 2006 before joining the administration, will rejoin the engineering faculty at Brown.

A search for his successor is expected to begin sometime next week, Schlissel said, with a goal of naming a new vice president for research by July, which marks the beginning of the next fiscal year.

While serving as vice president, Briant presided over a 35 percent growth in sponsored research, headed an effort to acquire a supercomputer for the Center for Computation and Visualization and helped reorganize the structure for protecting faculty-developed patents, among other initiatives, Schlissel wrote.

“Clyde is terrific,” said Beppie Huidekoper, executive vice president for finance and administration. “He’s been a terrific vice president for research, and he’s been a great partner. I think it’s just that time in his life where he wants to go back to teaching. It’s a good time with all the transitions going on, and it’s certainly not anything but the most positive.”

Briant said seven years in administration is “a pretty long time” and that he’s ready to pass the torch on to a successor.

“I had always felt I would want to end my career back in engineering,” he said. “I’m very frank about my age. I’m 64 and will turn 65 soon and so it’s a good moment to think about the final years of my career here at Brown. This seemed like a good moment to go back to engineering.”

In addition to his personal considerations, Briant said his decision was partly motivated by the current transitional period in the University’s presidency.

“The president is taking on a lot of new initiatives that are very exciting,” he said. “It’s probably good to have someone in here that will start out at the beginning and play a big role in that.”

More senior administrators have been stepping down recently than is usual, in part because a university president’s exit often spurs administrative turnover, Schlissel said.

“People often use that as a reason why they want to go back to doing their regular work,” Schlissel said. “None of these folks was asked to step down — certainly I would have been happy if they had continued — but it’s more the sort of natural turnover of these positions as people naturally retire or go back to being a professor.”

Briant works primarily in the field of mechanical engineering and said he plans to finish off his career in teaching and research. Last semester, he co-taught ENGN 0030: “Introduction to Engineering.”

“It was really good to get back in the classroom, and I remembered how much I enjoyed that,” he said.

The Provost’s office will be leading the internal search for Briant’s successor.

“The plan is to initially see whether any of our existing senior faculty are interested in the job and appropriate for it,” Schlissel said. “We’ll look internally first, and if we don’t find the right person, then we may look outside (the University).”

“In this instance, there’s a very large advantage for a faculty member who actually is very familiar with a broad array of what the Brown faculty do for their research,” he added. “A big part of the job is helping find ways to support and stimulate research and build interdisciplinary programs. An outside person might be quite good at this, but they would have a very steep learning curve.”

Paxson said she hopes Briant’s successor will help the University expand its role in new, innovative fields.

“We need somebody who really understands research and who can play an important role in bringing groups of researchers together,” she said. “This position is sort of a broker, somebody who’s pulling the community together and figuring out what opportunities there are for research and especially for research funding and matching us up with people. … We need someone who can take what Clyde’s done and carry it forward.”

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