University News

Faculty members provide feedback in provost search forum

Attendees discuss attributes that successor to Provost Mark Schlissel P’15 should bring to U.

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, February 28, 2014

Provost search committee members David Rand, Kavita Ramanan, Peter Friedmann and Iris Bahar moderate a forum on the search for Provost Mark Schlissel's P'15 successor.

The search for Provost Mark Schlissel’s P’15 successor took center stage in a faculty forum Thursday that offered attendees a chance to voice their thoughts on ideal qualities for the University’s next chief academic officer. 

About 20 faculty members attended the forum, held at the School of Public Health, to offer their input on finding Schlissel’s successor. Schlissel will leave Brown to assume the presidency  of the University of Michigan July 1.

Search committee members Iris Bahar, professor of engineering, Peter Friedmann, professor of medicine and health services, policy and practice, Kavita Ramanan, professor of applied mathematics, and David Rand, professor of biology, moderated the discussion.

The moderators said they are considering internal and external applications equally.

A faculty member in attendance said a provost should “understand and appreciate all facets of Brown, including the sciences and the arts” and maintain the University’s distinctive features.

Another faculty member said he preferred selecting a fellow academic to succeed Schlissel because “someone who spent the last 10 years in administration is going to be less in tune with the needs and interests of academic departments.”

The provost’s ability to connect with different disciplines emerged as a focal point of faculty members’ discussion, with one attendee emphasizing that Schlissel’s successor “should be deeply impassioned with teaching of all kinds.”

One faculty member said the provost should combine accomplished scholarship with “management experience” and an appreciation for “academic freedom.”

Schlissel’s successor must be skilled at team-building in order to address ongoing changes to both undergraduate and graduate education at Brown, another attendee said.

Some forum participants voiced support for a new provost who has ample experience in steering a major academic institution. One faculty member noted that fundraising will be a priority  in the coming years, as future levels of external research funding remain uncertain.

The expansion of the Graduate School and the implementation of President Christina Paxson’s strategic plan will be key fundraising challenges for the next provost, several faculty members said.

Some attendees expressed concern over finding a provost who can commit to Brown for the long term, citing the brevity of Schlissel’s tenure and the recent departure of former Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron. Schlissel became provost in July 2011.

One faculty member said an ideal candidate should be internally selected, adding that the next provost should be someone who arrived “relatively recently” and who has “not been in Brown for their entire career.”

“Brown has its own history, own sense of self, own constituencies … It takes three or four years to figure out how the place actually works,” the faculty member said.

One attendee recommended the committee consider individuals who “have been interdisciplinary their whole lives” so that they possess the vision needed to “quickly build up” Brown.

The University should continue to expand its graduate programs to ensure that every department has doctoral students, another faculty member said.

Another faculty member said the provost should be a “broad thinker” with strong listening skills who can efficiently “synthesize” information in order to be an effective decision maker.

Faculty members also discussed the role of the Corporation, the University’s highest governing body. One attendee said Corporation members are “committed to develop Brown” but often do not understand “how the academic world works.”

Bahar said the committee chose to hold the forum at the School of Public Health to solicit input from faculty members located on College Hill as well as those who work downtown. Faculty members in the Alpert Medical School, now based in the Jewelry District, have a “long tradition” of not attending faculty meetings as frequently as their College Hill peers, she said.

The provost search committee hopes to gather feedback from “a mix of folks from (the) Schools of Medicine, Public Health and College Hill-based faculty,” Friedmann said.

The “provost seems like a job that is very distant from what faculty does … because you don’t meet the provost unless you are involved in an issue directly related to the provost,” Ramanan said.

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  1. johnlonergan says:

    Not one word about bringing Brown into the 21st Century. Professors defending their turf and the status quo. No vision, no leadership sought. No wonder Schlissel is leaving. It’s hard to find support among Brown’s faculty and administration to turn this supertanker around.

    Brown needs root-and-branch reform to regain its lost leadership. The new provost must support restoring Brown’s lost leadership in education by:

    1. Teaching millions around the world, not just those 1,600 per year who come to the Brown campus–free the teachers! This includes alums and high school students, as well as those who want the Brown experience.
    2. Catch up with and pass MIT, Harvard, Stanford and Berkeley by embracing effective online teaching methods, flip the classroom, and enhance student-teacher interaction and the overall learning experience.
    3. Choose from a pool of millions, rather than the 29000 who apply each year (and only 54% who come after acceptance). Find the budding Albert Einsteins and Nelson Mandelas and the junkyard 13-year-old Mexico City math prodigy and start the “dating” process early.

    Without these fundamental reforms, Brown risks sliding further into irrelevancy.

    • Mr. Lonergan, I see you spend a fair amount of time here. I appreciate your dedication and I think online teaching can be valuable, but does every article need what essentially end up being the same comments?

  2. Lionel Spock says:

    Schlissel is not an air-head like Paxson (or Simmons). So most important is that Schlissel’s successor not be an air-head. Let’s start with that.

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