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University of Michigan taps Schlissel as next president

Search committee to find provost’s replacement to take shape over the next week, Paxson says

Provost Mark Schlissel P’15 was named the next president of the University of Michigan Friday morning, priming him to leave Brown after three years in the top administrative post.

He will remain at Brown for the rest of the academic year, taking the helm at Michigan July 1.

Schlissel, who came to Brown in 2011 after serving as dean of biological sciences at the University of California at Berkeley, played a leading role in the year-long process of crafting President Christina Paxson’s strategic plan, which was approved by the Corporation in late October.

He has also served as the University’s second-in-command during a time of tremendous administrative change. Just seven members of the current 19-person senior staff predate his 2011 arrival.

The Michigan Board of Regents unanimously approved and announced Schlissel’s selection at a special 10 a.m. meeting Friday, bringing an end to a seven-month search that began when current President Mary Sue Coleman announced her plans to retire last April.

Schlissel’s ascension to the top job at Michigan continues his rapid rise through the academic ranks, climbing from dean at Berkeley to provost at Brown to president at Michigan in a span of just six years.

His departure leaves the University with simultaneous openings for two top administrative posts, following Katherine Bergeron’s Jan. 1 exit as dean of the College to become the president of Connecticut College.

Schlissel is chair of the 13-person search committee for the new dean, whom administrators hope to select this spring to assume the post in July, he told The Herald in October.

The dean search is still in its “relatively early stages,” Paxson said, and Schlissel’s departure will prompt her to take a more active role early in the process.

Schlissel said the original plan was to present a list of three finalists to Paxson, but she will now play a more hands-on role in making the list.

Overlap between candidates for the two positions is “unlikely,” Paxson said. “People enter those jobs at different stages in their careers.”

“There’s not going to be any overlap in the types of candidates, paltry little,” said Stephen Nelson, a higher education expert and senior scholar at the Leadership Alliance at Brown.

Plans to search for Schlissel’s successor will take shape in the coming weeks, Paxson wrote in a community-wide email announcing his departure Friday morning.

Paxson wrote to faculty members Saturday morning to solicit input on their visions for the next provost, including their opinions on the merits of considering only internal candidates or engaging in a nationwide search, she told The Herald.

She said she intends to form a search committee within about a week and has already begun that process, adding that she aims to have a new provost in place by July 1, or Sept. 1 at the latest. There will not be an interim provost.

“Since his arrival, Mark has applied a rare combination of energy, thoughtfulness and discipline to strengthen every aspect of Brown,” Paxson wrote in the email, calling him a “valuable partner in the strategic planning process.”

“I credit the University of Michigan’s presidential search committee for their exceptional wisdom and judgment in choosing Mark to lead one of our nation’s preeminent public research universities,” she wrote.

Schlissel is “exceptionally well positioned for the Michigan job,” Paxson told The Herald, citing in particular his background in medicine as an appropriate fit for Michigan’s “major medical research enterprise.”

Schlissel is “recognized as a highly rated scholar and teacher,” said Michigan Regent Katherine White during Friday’s announcement, according to remarks posted on University of Michigan’s website. “He has experience as an academic administrator at virtually every level.”

The firm leading Michigan’s search, Russell Reynolds Associates, first reached out to Schlissel in early October, around the same time a former Berkeley colleague told Schlissel he had recommended him for the position, Schlissel said.

Schlissel received a tentative offer from Michigan’s search committee just before the end of the fall semester, but his selection was not made official until Friday’s vote, he said.

Schlissel will receive a base salary of $750,000 with annual raises determined by regents, according to several news outlets.

Schlissel said he had not actively been looking to leave the University and loves Brown, adding that he has rebuffed several inquiries from other universities gauging his interest in being considered for a presidential opening.

But Michigan’s “breadth of excellence” and “public character” were tempting, Schlissel said. U.S. News and World Report ranks 99 of Michigan’s graduate programs in their disciplines’ top 10.

“I have a great respect for the mission of the public research university, which is very clearly to educate the citizens of a state,” Schlissel said. “Public universities tend to have large numbers of students who are … the first in their families to go to college, and they represent the breadth of society. It’s really education that many families use to climb the economic and social ladder.”

Schlissel also expressed excitement about Michigan’s scale and volume of research. Its $1.3 billion of research spending in fiscal year 2012 placed it first among public universities, and the school trails only Johns Hopkins University in research expenditures among all American institutions of higher education. By comparison, Brown spent $178.9 million on research that year.

Though Schlissel’s rise from faculty member to president was swift, universities today tend to look more for “broadly defined intellectual leadership” than for lengthy service in administrative positions, Nelson said.

Michigan faculty members will view Schlissel as a relatable colleague rather than someone “who has been cutting (his) teeth administratively for the last 20 years,” Nelson said.

Paxson said she did not know Schlissel would be named Michigan’s president until about two weeks ago.

But “he’s an exceptional leader, and people … with provost experience are in very high demand for university presidencies,” she said. “So while I didn’t know when it would happen, I’m not at all surprised that it did.”

Nelson said Brown should be proud its provost was picked for such a prestigious presidency. “It speaks well of Schlissel and his credentials,” he said.



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