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Provost Richard Locke reflects on 7-year tenure

Locke helped steward Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan, Paxson administration’s strategic plan

<p>Richard Locke P’18 led initiatives to increase staff diversity, handle instruction and testing during the COVID-19 pandemic and increase financial aid.</p><p>Courtesy of Brown University</p>

Richard Locke P’18 led initiatives to increase staff diversity, handle instruction and testing during the COVID-19 pandemic and increase financial aid.

Courtesy of Brown University

At the end of the month, Richard Locke P’18 will conclude his tenure as the University’s provost to begin his role as vice president and dean of Apple University, the tech company’s corporate leadership school. Since his appointment as the 13th provost in 2015, Locke has served over seven years as the University’s chief academic officer.

Locke arrived at the University in July 2013 as director of the Watson Institute for International Studies. In his three years as director, Locke helped integrate the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions into the Watson Institute and also launched the one-year Masters in Public Affairs program. Additionally, the Watson Institute raised over $35 million under his leadership, according to a 2015 University press release.

In July 2015, Locke succeeded Professor of Chemistry, Engineering and Molecular Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biotechnology Vicki Colvin, now the director of the Center for Biomedical Engineering, as the next provost. In a letter announcing his appointment, President Christina Paxson P’19 said that Locke “emerged as the leading choice among outstanding candidates to lead the University’s academic programs,” and that his “appointment (would) sustain the momentum” of the Building on Distinction strategic plan.

Building on Distinction

Much of Locke’s tenure was shaped by the University’s Building on Distinction initiative, a 10-year strategic plan launched in 2013 to further invest in capital projects, increase financial aid, strengthen community ties and cultivate diversity. One of Locke’s first tasks as provost was to lead the initiative’s operational planning to execute these goals. 

“I felt very excited about it,” Locke told The Herald. “For me, the priorities were always about how we raise funds to support people and academic excellence.”

The BrownTogether campaign, launched in 2015 to fund Building on Distinction, has raised over $3 billion to fund its goals, such as establishing 123 endowed professorships, The Herald previously reported. The financial aid budget also grew significantly under Locke’s tenure, he said.

“I feel proud of the work that I did there,” Locke said. “Having been a financial aid student myself many years ago, I knew how important that was.”

Locke said that the University has grown stronger academically as a result of Building on Distinction.

“You're only as strong as the people you're able to attract and keep, whether they're students or staff or faculty,” Locke said. “I feel like my focus on people was the right thing to do as provost.”

Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan

When Locke took over as provost, he initially did not have any concrete plans regarding diversity and inclusion at the University, he said.

When he took office, he said he was "fortunate" to meet colleagues such as Professor of Africana Studies Tricia Rose and Professor of Humanities and Critical Theory, Africana Studies and History of Art and Architecture Anthony Bogues, who shared readings and educated him on diversity and inclusion.

“And then, there were the students,” Locke added. “I remember there was all this mobilization in the fall of 2015 of undergraduates and graduate students, and I would go to the protests and listen.”

The Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan was subsequently finalized and released in February 2016. The plan outlines the University’s commitment to “a set of concrete, achievable actions that will make Brown more fully diverse and inclusive,” the document reads. The plan also confronts the reality and enduring legacies of the University’s historical exclusion of marginalized groups.

“The role that I played as provost (in the plan) was promoting a lot of faculty hiring, working with the deans and the different departments, doing a lot of trainings and workshops for department chairs (and) for (Directors of Graduate Study) and (Departmental Undergraduate Groups), working with the grad students and just showing that this was always going to be a priority,” Locke said.

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Since DIAP’s inception, the University has nearly doubled the total number of faculty from historically underrepresented groups, according to a 2022 memo released by the University.

Locke said that though the University has made significant progress in its compositional diversity, more work remains to improve the culture and climate of the community to ensure that everyone feels “fully seen and valued for who they are.”

Additionally, by launching and working with initiatives such as the Displaced Scholars Program, International Writers Project and the New University in Exile Consortium, Locke also helped to welcome students and scholars from areas affected by conflicts and natural disasters such as Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine and Puerto Rico.

“I felt that this wasn’t just my job as a provost — it was my job as a parent and a citizen,” Locke said. “My great faith is that that work will continue after I leave because it's now a part of our fabric.”

Navigating COVID-19

The last three years of Locke’s tenure were marked by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic meant that being provost was a 24/7 job,” Locke said. “At first, none of us knew what was going on and how to manage it.”

Locke helped manage the logistical challenges of the pandemic, including implementing a three-semester model in the 2020-21 academic year and piloting a COVID-19 testing program, The Herald previously reported.

Locke also said he struggled with personal losses while leading University academics through sudden changes.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, I lost my mom, my mother-in-law and one of my best friends,” Locke said. “And the job also suddenly became very, very complicated.”

Despite the pandemic’s challenges, Locke noted “a silver lining,” citing the University’s ability to “anchor itself on its core values to navigate the ongoing and shifting challenges of the pandemic.”

“We made sure that we didn't lay off any full-time employees, we continued to pay people because it was our responsibility to do so and we gave meals to people in the community,” Locke said. “There was this moment where it didn't matter whether you were a provost or groundskeeper or student or faculty member — we were united as a community in solidarity and mutual respect.”

Parting Words

Though Locke will shortly depart for Apple in California, Locke noted that he will always cherish his time and experiences at Brown.

“I love Brown,” Locke said, reflecting on his time at the University. “I love what Brown does.”

“The magic of Brown is that it attracts really smart, creative, out-of-the-box thinkers, whether it's students, faculty or staff,” he added. “It's a gift for me to have had the privilege of working here for almost a decade.”



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