Third provost candidate envisions AAU excellence, shared governance
Several faculty members expressed concern that AAU metrics are not representative of non-STEM departments.
Nov. 05, 2014
Science and education have influenced Nancy Brickhouse’s life since her early childhood.
She was raised in Kilgore, Texas, where her father ran a feedstock testing lab in the kitchen and worked to obtain a doctorate degree.
“He believed that farmers needed education (and to) improve their practices based on solid sciences in order to feed a growing population,” Brickhouse said to a crowd of students, faculty and staff Wednesday morning during an open forum.
Brickhouse, a candidate for MU executive vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost, followed in her father’s footsteps. After spending much of her adolescent life in analytic testing labs, she received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Baylor University, a master’s degree in chemistry and a doctoral degree in science education from Purdue University.
Brickhouse went on to become an assistant professor at the University of Delaware and climbed up the administrative ladder to serve as a deputy dean in the College of Education and Human Development, deputy provost and, for a time, interim provost of the university.
Brickhouse said she helped the university successfully negotiate a three-year faculty union contract, raised funds for a $132 million interdisciplinary science and engineering facility and increased student diversity as interim provost.
Several of the crises Brickhouse tackled at the helm of the provost’s office are echoed in issues visible around MU’s campus, which she said makes her a qualified candidate to resolve the issues.
During her tenure, UD suffered from several structural deficits with no money to remedy the problems. MU is plagued by a facilities problem of its own: Nearly 30 buildings on campus are currently in need of repair, with little support from the state legislature.
The University of Delaware also needed a College of Engineering dean, but faced challenges posed by “dire fiscal straits.”
Brickhouse said the university navigated around these problems by giving the college enough one-time funds to stay afloat for a few years while it developed plans to remedy the structural deficit problems.
“And it worked,” she said. “Today, they operate in the black and have a new biomedical engineering program (that) is attracting the strongest and most diverse students to campus. They have a new, strong dean that is at the helm, who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.”
Low faculty morale at UD led to retention issues, opening the doors for other universities to poach talented faculty and researchers. Brickhouse said the key to dealing with retention problems was mentoring younger faculty.
“You don’t lose senior-level faculty,” she said. “You lose rising stars.”
Betsy Rodriguez, UM System vice president of human resources, said in April that MU must address “non-competitive” pay levels in order to retain key personnel.
Brickhouse said she plans to use key membership metrics for the Association of American Universities — including the amount of federal research funding procured, faculty membership in the National Academies, faculty awards and research citations — as the benchmark to “reward faculty excellence.”
“We use those benchmarks because we think they are good benchmarks,” she said.
However, several faculty members in the audience expressed concerns that those metrics may be disconnected from those who are not in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
“What the AAU looks for is not really what we do; we don’t send people to the National Academy of Sciences,” said an audience member who identified himself as faculty in the School of Law. “To an extent, that there is a lot of energy to move in that direction … how do we as the Law School fit in?”
Another audience member who identified herself as a professor of English and humanities said those in non-scientific departments such as her own do not believe they are well-represented under the AAU metrics.
Brickhouse said those non-STEM areas could still fit into the AAU metrics since certain categories, such as faculty awards, apply broadly across campus. She added that the university would benefit from the association’s prestige.
“You wouldn’t want Missouri to lose its AAU standing,” she said. “I think we all benefit from the AAU membership … Member (universities) in the AAU are looked up to by the other universities in the country.”
Brickhouse went on to address concerns about faculty shared governance. She said UD has an active faculty senate as well as a faculty union, and that she had worked with concerned faculty to resolve issues with the university budget.
“I was not in a position to make significant changes to the budget,” she said. “This was a high concern for many of the faculty. So when the new provost arrived, we decided to make this a top priority. We enlisted the faculty to … come onboard and help us find a solution to the questions they had.”
Brickhouse was also asked about her goals for Title IX reforms, which she referred to as a nationwide issue. She said the process should be made more transparent to better engage the community about existing policies.
“When it comes to individual cases, (the university) oftentimes are unable to talk about personnel information,” she said. “So what they need is a campus that understands what the policies and procedures are so when things come up about individual cases, they know what the university would have been required to have done to handle the case.”
Toward the end of the forum, Brickhouse turned the question-and-answer session around to ask the audience members what changes they want to see at MU.
Director of Libraries Jim Cogswell said the university should further publicize its value to the state.
“The good citizens of Missouri don’t know how good their state institution is … I’d go as far as to say they don’t deserve as good of an institution,” he said. “The plain fact is this place is underfunded by the state … and it stems from the fact that news about all that is being done by this institution isn’t fully realized, or as much as it should.”
Brickhouse’s visit was preceded by open forums for John Wiencek, who is currently the interim provost at Virginia Commonwealth University, and Michele Wheatly, former provost at West Virginia University.
MU spokesman Christian Basi said the search committee is releasing information about candidates shortly before each visit, and he cannot confirm if there is a fourth candidate.