Baylor University welcomed its new provost Monday after four years of instability in its top academic post, and in the midst of a $1.1 billion campaign to bolster the university’s national profile.
Nancy Brickhouse greeted a crowd of faculty and staff during a formal reception, though she started work officially on May 1. Her first week has been mostly taken up with introductions as she goes from department to department meeting with faculty, deans and department chairs.
“The provost’s job…is really to connect the dots, if you will, across departments, and to really understand what they’re doing and ways that we can then begin to pull that work together, and coordinate it in ways that it can have greater impact,” Brickhouse said, addressing the crowd.
The provost makes final decisions on every academic endeavor at the university, second only to the university president. That includes hiring, curriculum, student appeals and anything else related to academics.
Brickhouse, herself a 1983 Baylor alumnus, spent 27 years at the University of Delaware and three years as provost at Saint Louis University before taking the job at Baylor.
“I really went through all the faculty ranks and did some administrative work there as well,” Brickhouse said. “I’ve been a faculty member, I’ve been a chair, and I’ve been a dean.”
Following Provost Edwin Trevathan’s resignation in 2016 after less than eight months on the job, Baylor has had a parade of interim provosts fill the role while the search for a replacement continued, including Todd Still, Michael McLendon, and Gary Mortenson, among others.
“Having a permanent provost would be really significant for us because then she can really help build out the long-term implementation plan and build support across campus,” Baylor President Linda Livingstone said. “It will make a big difference as we have stability in that office and stability in our academic direction.”
Brickhouse will spend the rest of the semester meeting with different departments and getting reacquainted with the campus she attended as a student. Next semester, she’ll starting working in earnest on an implementation plan for the university’s strategic academic plan, called Illuminate. She will be key in hiring the 17 endowed chairs the university plans to create as part of the plan, largely funded by a $100 million donation Baylor received from an anonymous donor last week.
“With the implementation of a new academic plan, it’s really important for me to know what’s going on in the departments so they can have opportunities to contribute to that strategic plan in ways that they’re going to find inspiring,” Brickhouse said.
Baylor Chair of Psychology and Neuroscience Charles Weaver sat on the selection committee that chose Brickhouse for the position.
“The president is very much the public face of the university, and absolutely does have the final say in all matters, but most presidents, ours included, delegate that responsibility to the provost,” Weaver said.
He said the committee met for about a year and a half.
“We initially thought we might have the search completed by the spring of last year, and that didn’t happen, so we continued our work through the spring of this year,” Weaver said.
Weaver said the search turned up many exceptional candidates, but Brickhouse stood out.
“She was the appropriate combination of experience, sensitivity to Baylor’s faith background, and a serious scholar,” Weaver said. “(She’s) somebody that was forward-looking, somebody that we thought could lead up as we take the next steps.”