University News

Vicki Colvin to step down as provost

Following Colvin's one-year tenure, successor to become fourth provost in six years

University News Editor
Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Updated May 19 at 8:30 p.m.

Vicki Colvin will step down as provost June 30 after just one year in the position, President Christina Paxson P’19 announced in a campus-wide email Tuesday afternoon.

Colvin elected to leave her post as provost in order to pursue research in greater depth.

“I have always contributed to university service in a way that allowed me to pursue my many other academic interests, and I’ve learned this year, that while I love this job, I want to be able to engage in more substantial scholarship,” Colvin said, according to a University press release.

Colvin, who came to Brown from Rice University where she served as vice provost for research, was selected as Brown’s 12th provost in May 2014 following a nationwide search that lasted more than three months. She replaced Mark Schlissel P’15 in that role when he became president of the University of Michigan July 1.

Colvin’s successor will become the University’s fourth provost in six academic years.

Paxson will discuss plans to identify a new provost with Corporation members at the body’s meeting this weekend, said Cass Cliatt, vice president for communications.

That discussion will include deliberations about the scale of the search the University should undertake, Cliatt said. Searches for top administrators require substantial temporal and financial resources.

That commitment of time and money, now needed for the second consecutive year, makes Colvin’s exit after just 12 months a setback to the University.

Nonetheless, the University is prepared to spend the time and money required to find an ideal candidate to replace Colvin, Cliatt said.

“It is not unusual if we might have to invest further. … Finding the best leadership for Brown is a priority,” she said.

The University has not decided if it will assemble another search committee or hire outside companies to assist it in identifying potential candidates, Cliatt said. These possibilities will also be discussed this weekend.

Still, the search for the next provost will not begin at square one. It will build on the efforts that led to Colvin’s selection last May, Cliatt said. Because the last search for a provost took place a year ago, the University already has “some knowledge of potential candidates” and an understanding of what community members are looking for in the University’s chief academic officer.

During her short tenure as provost, Colvin helped create a program in entrepreneurial education that will be piloted this summer, enlarged the responsibilities of the dean of the School of Professional Studies to encompass supporting digital education efforts and developing programs for alums, and oversaw the Deficit Reduction Working Group’s efforts to rein in the University’s operating budget deficit, Paxson wrote.

She also established a vice provost for the arts — a new administrative position — and advocated the construction of a new performing arts space, as well as significant renovations for the Sharpe Refectory.

Before starting her term as provost, Colvin told The Herald she hoped to establish a “small, collaborative lab” that would work on research of interest to her.

But even this attempt to pursue research in moderation was impossible while she served as provost, Colvin wrote in an email to The Herald Tuesday. “It was clear to me this April that there was no way I was going to be able to oversee even a small lab and be provost,” she wrote.

Colvin will return to the University as a member of the faculty.



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  1. concerned alum says:

    wow wtf? churn and burn. the van wickle gates have a revolving door these days.

  2. Concerned Faculty says:

    More to this story, no doubt. Someone should ask Paxson what -really- went on…

    • Flush a Riv says:

      No need to ask. Colvin and we already know. Paxson is not qualified to lead a university. Which idiots put Paxson there anyway!

      • Not so fast says:

        Or, it could be that Paxon is creating an environment that previously-coddled Brownies aren’t willing to buy into. It’s tough when someone comes in to a supervisory position and actually expects people to do their jobs, unlike other former Presidents I could mention who spent 11 years doing nothing.

        • Concerned Faculty says:

          Colvin did exactly what she was hired to do which was to make changes and they were good ones. Looks like Paxson couldn’t take the heat and simply shut down the kitchen.

        • Evan Halfeld says:

          So Colvin did the difficult things while Paxson either waits in the wing to share credit, or makes self serving decisions at Colvin’s expense. Paxson is a lightweight.

  3. Concerned Faculty says:

    Colvin did not step down. She was summarily terminated by Paxson without warning, without explanation and apparently without cause. Neither the corporation or faculty were consulted.

  4. Timmons Roberts says:

    While it would be good to have some official explanation of what happened in this case, there are probably several valid reasons we will never get one. I’m concerned about anonymous postings which paint people as all terrible or all wonderful. President Paxson stepped into some very tough issues each of the past three years. Having been at three universities I can say that the Provost position here is extremely difficult, because power is so decentralized and schools and units each have their own endowments and missions, and become fiefdoms. There are up and down sides of that. The other major tension is between the pressure to increase the research output and grant getting, and preserving and advancing the undergraduate experience for which Brown is largely known and ranked so highly. My observation was that the two previous provosts leaned heavily on the grant side. Regardless, some informed faculty I know report that it just wasn’t a good match for Colvin in that role here. Better to pull the band-aid off quickly I suppose. All that matters really is looking forward: Rick Locke is going to be a dynamite provost, and I think we couldn’t be luckier. I am a big supporter of how President Paxson is supporting our engagement in the world as a way to renew our purpose in line with the university’s mission, and Rick Locke is going to “up our game” in many ways. Watch out for Brown in the next three years.

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