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Science faculty dominate admin search committee

The committee to select the new vice president of research includes one humanities professor

The search committee for a new vice president for research has launched the selection process and expects to fill the position within the month, said Provost Mark Schlissel P’15. Five out of the seven faculty members on the committee, which Schlissel formed, work in math and the life and physical sciences, though the vice president position oversees research in all disciplines.

When current Vice President for Research Clyde Briant announced in January that he will step down at the end of the academic year, Schlissel sent an email to the faculty inviting interested members to nominate themselves or their colleagues for the position.

“I would hope that the makeup of the committee is not representative of the amount of attention the humanities will get,” said Evelyn Lincoln, associate professor of history of art and architecture and Italian studies.

The search has been conducted internally and has focused on current tenured faculty members who are “already familiar with the way we do business,” Schlissel said.

About 10 faculty members have submitted letters of interest regarding the available position, Schlissel said.

The search committee will meet for the first time this week and at the end of its process will recommend three finalists, Schlissel said. The new vice president for research will be selected by President Christina Paxson, Schlissel said.


A science bent

The eight-member search committee is dominated by faculty members “from the math and science and engineering side of the house,” Schlissel said. Amanda Anderson, professor of English, serves as the sole representative of the humanities, while Rajiv Vohra P’07, professor of economics and former dean of the faculty, is the only social science faculty member on the committee.

“I wanted to select a group that represents the breadth of the research community at Brown, but with a particular skewing toward the community that’s most dependent on the functioning of the vice president for research’s office,” Schlissel said.

The Office of the Vice President for Research is responsible for all faculty-written grant proposals that are submitted to federal agencies, Schlissel said. “The classics department doesn’t submit as many grant proposals as the engineers,” he said.


‘Where the money is’

The breakdown of sponsored research funding granted to University faculty members for fiscal year 2012 was heavily skewed toward research in the life and physical sciences, math and engineering, Briant wrote in an email to The Herald. The majority of these funds come from federal agencies, he wrote.

Researchers in the life sciences, which include public health and cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences, were awarded $98.6 million in funding, Briant wrote. In the realm of the physical sciences, which includes physics, geology, math, applied math and engineering, $50.3 million of funding was awarded. The social sciences trailed behind at $11 million and researchers in the humanities received $498,741.

This disparity is not campus-based, but rather founded in decision-making on the national scale, Schlissel said. The amount of grant money the federal government apportions to the humanities and arts pales in comparison to the tens of millions of dollars that go toward supporting research in the fields of math, science and engineering, he said.

“It’s really following where the money is,” he said.


Ignoring the dollar signs

While the life and medical sciences dominate the research breakdown when it comes to amount of research funding, the humanities and social sciences are not as research-barren as the dollar signs imply, said Kenneth Wong, chair for education policy.

“The size of the grants are smaller on a per-grant basis, but the sheer number of grants (awarded to humanities and social sciences researchers) is significant,” Wong said.

“There is a perception that research in the humanities and social sciences is inexpensive and personal, not done in teams and therefore simpler,” Lincoln said. “We don’t set up labs, we don’t hire 30 graduate students … but in fact we do need some help,” she said.

Lincoln and Wong said the Cogut Center for the Humanities, Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World and Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women are all organizations that support humanities and social sciences researchers.

“I would just hope their important work would be recognized by the new vice president,” Lincoln said.

Lincoln said while humanities researchers may require less funding than science-oriented researchers, they could use support and attention in different forms. She said she wished there was a stronger network of support for humanities professors engaging in “digital humanities” research and an infrastructure to help humanities faculty build a website to make their work accessible to people outside of the University community.

When it comes to humanities professors finding funding and getting assistance in applying for grants, she said, “You have to go out and do it yourself.”


Committee breakdown

Anderson’s presence on the search committee brings a broader perspective to the group, Schlissel said. “But if we were to have a significant fraction of the committee be people that never interact with this office, then it would be hard for them to make a good decision,” he said.

Wong said he thought the search committee’s discipline distribution was “about right,” given the necessity of the vice president being familiar with the federal grant process. Instead of altering the discipline breakdown, Wong suggested the committee more fully represent faculty members in a more diverse array of career stages. “Associate professors and assistant professors may be very actively applying for grants and have direct experience they may be able to contribute to this conversation,” Wong said.

The new vice president for research supports research at Brown but also serves as one of the main advisers to the provost and as a member of a senior leadership team that makes decisions about campus issues, Schlissel said.

The vice president will be responsible for overseeing a lot of inter-agency, inter-institutional and even international agreements, Wong said.

In addition to familiarity with the federal grant process, Schlissel said the committee is looking for a candidate with an open personality and willingness to engage and represent the University well — traits, he said, that “can be judged by faculty regardless of discipline.”


A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that researchers in the humanities received $46,000 in awards and researchers in the physical sciences received $53 million in fiscal year 2012. In fact, the correct numbers were $498,741 and $50.3 million, respectively. But, as originally reported, the breakdown in funding is skewed toward the life and physical sciences.


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