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Search for replacement dean of the College underway

Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Margaret Klawunn (right) will serve as interim dean starting Jan. 1 and will not be a candidate  to replace Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron.

Last week’s naming of an interim dean and the members of the search committee marks the start of the process to identify Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron’s long-term successor.

Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Margaret Klawunn will serve as interim dean from January until a permanent dean assumes the post, The Herald reported last week. The permanent dean will likely be in place by July, and Klawunn will not be a candidate for the position, said Provost Mark Schlissel P’15.

Schlissel will chair the 13-person search committee, which includes faculty members from each academic division — two from the humanities, one from the social sciences, two from the life sciences and one from the physical sciences — and three current students.

Schlissel said he selected the faculty members from a list of recommendations submitted to him by the Faculty Executive Committee. He made the committee selections with an eye toward disciplinary balance so the committee would be “broadly representative” of the faculty’s interests, he said.

The three students on the committee have similarly diverse academic backgrounds. Amelia Armitage ’15 concentrates in history, Abishek Kulshreshtha ’15 concentrates in physics and Emma Dickson ’16 said she intends to concentrate in political science.

The committee’s first task will be to solicit opinions from “key members of the community” on what the committee should look for in the next dean, Schlissel said. Specifically, the committee will want to hear what personal characteristics the dean should possess and with what issues he or she should be familiar. This outreach will help shape the “experience profile” before the committee begins looking for candidates, he said.

The committee will then conduct a nationwide search for candidates both within and outside of Brown, Schlissel said. The University will not employ a search firm but will “advertise the position in venues that get a lot of readership in the academy,” as well as amongst Brown’s faculty, he said.

Schlissel said he thinks there is at least a 50 percent chance a current Brown faculty member will be selected “because it’s so important that whoever takes the job understands Brown and its culture.”

Because the dean of the College is an “academic leadership job,” the position must be filled by either a tenured Brown faculty member or a candidate from another university who is “a scholar of the caliber that would be tenured here,” Schlissel said.

He said he hopes to have a new dean lined up several months before the individual would be expected to begin, both for logistical reasons — such as allowing an external hire ample time to relocate — and because there will be a  learning curve regardless of whether an internal or external selection is made.

“People who are here already have an advantage because they would have a level of understanding of the … educational culture here,” Schlissel said. “But it would be foolish to think there aren’t people at other universities that would bring not just an appreciation of who we are and our culture … but also bring in some interesting ideas and a new style and stir the pot.”

Search committee member and Professor of Economics Andrew Foster said he would first look to internal candidates, “because I think they’ll have a head start in getting to know the different dynamic of campus.” But he added, “I’d rather evaluate the candidates than their superficial credentials.”

Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences Sheila Blumstein, who will serve on the search committee, said a history with Brown would not be a factor in her consideration of the candidates. “We’re going to pick the best. Period.”

“(Being internal) could be an advantage, or it could not be an advantage,” Blumstein said. “We know the warts of our friends.”

Multiple committee members said it is beneficial to fill senior leadership positions with those with backgrounds in different academic divisions but that the individual candidate matters more than his or her field.

“There is a value to having the senior leadership of the campus balanced in terms of their discipline,” Schlissel said. “But this job is so important that we have to get an outstanding person. So the most important factor will be, ‘Are they the very best candidate to serve in this complicated and important position?’”

Dean of the Faculty Kevin McLaughlin’s P’12 background in the humanities makes finding another humanist to serve as dean of the College less relevant, Foster said. Both Bergeron, a professor of music, and Klawunn, who previously taught English, are humanities scholars.

Blumstein, a former dean of the College herself, downplayed the importance of disciplinary balance, saying that once someone becomes dean of the College, he or she ceases to be an advocate for any particular field.

Faculty members and students on the committee agreed that the next dean must work well with others and display an understanding of and commitment to undergraduate education.

Blumstein also cited “a commitment to a university-college notion” as an important factor and said the person must be “someone faculty can respect with a strong academic portfolio.”

Kulshreshtha said he would look for a candidate who would work to improve diversity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and was committed to boosting the representation of women and minorities in those disciplines.

A candidate should also be enthusiastic about improving first-year advising, Kulshreshtha said.

Armitage and Dickson both said accessibility to students and receptiveness to their input were important considerations.

Klawunn was chosen as interim dean because she has worked closely with Bergeron and the Office of the Dean of the College, Schlissel said, noting the overlapping responsibilities between the Office of Campus Life and Student Services and the Office of the Dean of the College. The dean of the College is responsible for undergraduate education, and at Brown much of that learning takes place outside the classroom, he said.

The other reason for her selection, Schlissel said, was that he preferred not to name an interim dean who would be a candidate to hold the job long-term. Because Klawunn is not a tenured faculty member, she does not meet the position’s requirements. While serving as interim dean, she will also maintain her campus life responsibilities.

Klawunn said her primary job will be to “steward the office appropriately” and ensure its daily operations continue to run smoothly.

She also said it will be important to prepare the Office of the Dean of the College to respond to any initiatives in the strategic plan that involve undergraduate education. Klawunn has been involved with ongoing efforts to develop sophomore seminars, an element of President Christina Paxson’s strategic plan, Bergeron wrote in an email to The Herald.