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Brown University Provost Mark Schlissel selected as next University president

By Jennifer Calfas, Managing News Editor
and Sam Gringlas, Daily News Editor
Published January 24, 2014

Mark Schlissel, Brown University’s provost, will succeed University President Mary Sue Coleman as the University of Michigan’s 14th president. His term will begin July 1.

The decision was unanimously approved by the University’s Board of Regents at a special meeting Friday morning in the Michigan Union’s Kuenzel Room. The announcement arrives after a presidential search committee spent much of the summer and fall gathering input from faculty and students and the assistance of Russell Reynolds Associates, an executive search advisory firm.

Schlissel will receive a base salary of $750,000 per year with an annual increase determined by the regents. His contract runs for five years. Coleman currently receives $603,000 per year in her role, but has denied an increase several years in a row.

Schlissel began his term as provost at Brown in 2011 after serving as the University of California-Berkeley’s dean of biological sciences from 2008 to 2011. As provost, Schlissel serves as Brown’s chief academic officer and deputy to the president. In his current role, Schlissel manages the day-to-day operations of the institution and oversees Brown’s strategic planning.

In a press conference after the regents approved the appointment, Schlissel addressed the challenges he expects to face as the next president, including enhancing diversity on campus, increasing affordability and developing relationships with potential donors to the University.

Schlissel said his biggest challenge will be engaging with students, faculty and staff on campus, adding that he has a lot to learn since he has never worked at the University.

“In my experience, universities really don’t get led top-down,” he said. “The best ideas come from the people who do the teaching and the learning, so that’s why I need to do some listening first.”

While Schlissel will face many issues in his transition, one of the most prominent matters he will address is the demand for larger minority enrollment and inclusion at the University.

“You can’t achieve excellence as an academic institution without being diverse because we live in a world where people can look at the same set of facts and interpret them differently from each other,” he said.

In addition to diversity, Schlissel appealed to a wide scope of the constituencies, citing the University’s alumni and staff members as well as the Ann Arbor community, in addition to the expected listing of faculty, students and regents.

He also noted the University’s stature as a public institution — despite the challenges of declining state funding — as a key draw to the University.

“Another thing that made me say Michigan is a place I really have to look at is my feeling about the role education can play in solving society’s problems,” Schlissel said. “And it’s not that we don’t do this at great private university — we do — but there’s something about the openness and the accessibility of a public universities that’s really special and it drew at my heartstrings.”

Coleman lauded Schlissel’s experience and qualifications as the next president of the University.

“I’ve often said the job of being president at the University of Michigan is the best job in the country,” she said. “I couldn’t be more pleased to know that you, as the 14th president, will experience this firsthand.”

Before approving Schlissel’s appointment as president, each regent lauded his qualifications for the position.

“This is a great day for the University of Michigan. We go today from strength to strength; from one great leader, Mary Sue Coleman, to another, Mark Schlissel,” said University Regent Mark Bernstein (D–Ann Arbor).

Bernstein recalled Schlissel’s answer to one of the central questions that faced the search committee: What makes a great university president?

“You have to love and be amazed by students. You have to love and be amazed by faculty. You have to love and be amazed by research and discovery.”

In an interview after the press conference, University Provost Martha Pollack, who will perhaps work most closely with the new president, praised Schlissel’s academic record, as well as his interest in faculty and research and commitment to diversity and affordability.

“You heard the regents talk about him having great ethics, great values and a great heart — that’s just the combination you want,” Pollack said.

She added that she will have a one-on-one meeting with the president-elect Friday afternoon as she begins to share knowledge and understand how to best work with him.

Though this was her first introduction to the University’s 14th president, E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, said she saw Schlissel as someone who could build on Coleman’s strengths.

“Regent Bernstein said it just right — we’re going from strength to strength,” Harper said. “I love the fact that he is so student-centered, because our students are used to that and deserve that.”

Schlissel will also direct the remainder of the University’s Victors for Michigan development campaign, which aims to raise $4 billion in funds.

Jerry May, vice president for development, said he thinks Schlissel will easily form relationships with donors as he prepares to raise about half of the campaign goal. May also called attention to Schlissel’s apparent willingness to listen and ability to form a vision for the University.

“He is articulate, he is real, he is genuine, he has an incredible pedigree,” May said. “I was astounded that he could answer things as if he’s been on this campus for months. The alumni and donors are going to love him. The instinct that I’ve seen today is that this is a no-brainer. This guy is going to do great.”

When Schlissel arrived at Brown in 2011, he gave a convocation address which called on students to channel synergies across disciplines, a theme that he echoed in his first address as president-elect.

“Don’t simply accept what your professors have to say, but question us. Approach our teachings like a curious scientist and look for the facts that underlie our interpretations and opinions; the data that leads to our conclusions,” he said.

Schlissel graduated from Princeton University in 1979 with a specialty in biochemical sciences. He earned his M.D. and Ph.D. at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1986, subsequently completing his residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

During his academic career, Schlissel’s research has centered on development biology, specifically studying the genetic factors that can lead to leukemia and lymphoma.

Schlissel attended the special meeting of the Board of Regents with his wife Monica Schwebs, who also received accolades from the regents. She is an environmental and energy lawyer at a large national firm. The couple has four adult children.

In a press release, Brown University President Christina Paxson praised Schlissel’s work in his position as provost.

“Mark is an exceptional scholar, teacher and academic leader,” Paxson wrote. “He has been an esteemed and valued colleague to many here at Brown. His many contributions will be realized for decades to come.”

Paxson said Schlissel led several searches for administrative positions for Brown’s faculty, including the search for its vice president of research and its dean of medicine and biological sciences.

The University has several dean searches underway as Schlissel makes his transition into the presidency, including the appointment of the LSA dean and the vice president for research, currently held by Susan Gelman and Jack Hu, respectively, in interim positions.

At Brown, Schlissel helped lead a new strategic initiative titled “Building on Distinction: A New Plan for Brown.” The plan established goals for investment in academic programs, scholarships and campus expansion.

The four goals of the campaign include integrative scholarship, educational leadership, academic excellence and campus development. The plans are designed to be implemented over the course of the next 10 years.

While a dean at UC-Berkeley, Schlissel also spearheaded a cross-campus cost containment and procurement initiative — efforts which have also been underway at the University for the past few years.

In an article by the Daily Herald, Schlissel detailed changes in Brown’s curriculum development. One of the projects Schlissel championed includes the implementation of a theme for the school’s International Studies program.

However, Brown’s faculty raised several concerns about the strategic plan. Paxson and Schlissel created forums to address their questions, including questions of heightening student enrollment to alleviate increasing tuition costs.

“We are a very tuition-dependent university,” Schlissel said. “The idea is to strike the right balance, to hit the sweet spot without giving up the kind of highly interactive mode of education that makes the undergraduate program so special to allow us to get to the scale where we can capture efficiencies.”

In a short speech after his appointment, Schlissel expressed excitement about joining the University community.

“I am amazingly honored to be chosen to lead a jewel of the American educational system,” he said. “The University of Michigan is held in such regard. Words almost escape me.”


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