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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

One provost, many assistants

Published: November 18, 2011
Section: Front Page

Earlier this month veteran chemistry Professor Irving Epstein (CHEM) was named senior adviser for research by Provost Steve Goldstein, in what is only the most recent of several new appointments under the chief academic officer in recent months.

Under former Provost Marty Krauss, the first such of recent jobs created was that of Professor Dan Perlman (BIOL) as associate provost for assessment last academic year. Irene Abrams, already the director of the university’s office technology licensing and patents, was promoted to the new role of associate provost for innovation.

Goldstein has preferred the senior adviser title and, as he put it at the November faculty meeting, “these appointments are the equivalent of a vice president,” and other administrative adviser at other institutions. Last month Goldstein made national news because he conferred a special adviser title on Anita Hill, who teaches at the Heller School and will handle communications and the university’s image in addition to strategic planning.

The provost’s principal number two is Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Michaele Whelan, who is a full-time administrator and outranks other associates and assistants. She said the recent spate of promotions and titles—including, surprisingly, to still-full-time members of the faculty like Epstein, Perlman and Hill—reflected a wish to “draw increasingly on the expertise and experience of our faculty.”

“The assortment of titles, whether ‘associate’ or ‘senior adviser to,’ can just reflect the preference of the administrator who hired them,” she said. The more meaningful distinction is between full-time staff members like Abrams, who merely got a promotion, and distinct faculty members who have expanded their roles with the title to complement this.

Whelan called the professors who have taken on added administrative responsibilities “senior people who have the capacity and the expertise and who want to take a role” in administrating the academy.

Epstein has this expertise to advise the provost—he was in the top job himself under former President Jehuda Reinharz for a time. And, as a research czar, he brings to the job the record of having secured the Brandeis POSSE program for science—a prestigious program for inner-city students to attend top colleges—almost single-handedly, applying for the grant and fostering the students.

The fancier titles do not come with a significant pay grade increase either, according to Whelan. While precise salaries and contract negotiations are confidential, these professors also teach fewer classes, for instance two per year instead of four, and lose parts of the original faculty salary for that reason even before the small pay increase for an adviser’s job is added.

Whelan said that faculty are thus “willing to give back to the institution, in a service on their part, in addition to their course teaching and own research.”

In this way, the university actually saves money, and not at the cost of quality and, Whelan said, it even produces added benefits.

Not only would it be more expensive to hire a full-time outside adviser on innovation or communications, but “it would so much longer to train them, and get them up to speed, with for example the strategic planning process with its large ramp-up time,” Whelan said. She added that “expanding the role of faculty allows the provost to pay these portfolios extra attention.”