Nancy W. Brickhouse has been at the University of Delaware for her entire academic career and has served as faculty, dean and now interim provost.
But in applying for the job of chief academic officer at the University of Kentucky, a much bigger school, Brickhouse said she was struck more by the similarities of the two land grant schools than the differences.
"The questions brought up by the deans and others, they're exactly the ones we're talking about," she said about issues of funding, teaching and the future of higher education.
Brickhouse was the second of three finalists for the UK provost job to speak at campus forums this week. José Luis Bermúdez, dean of liberal arts at Texas A&M University, appeared Tuesday, and Christine Riordan, dean of business at the University of Denver, will speak at 4 p.m. Thursday at the King Library.
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One similarity between Delaware and UK, Brickhouse said, is that Delaware is five years into a budget model that UK is now preparing to start. The "values-based" budget model distributes resources more directly as they come in, instead of a more centralized system that hands out money to departments based on how much they got the year before.
At the campus forum on Wednesday, Brickhouse fielded several questions about that model of budgeting, which is causing some anxiety on the UK campus.
One questioner asked about the possibility of competition and duplication in departments, as each one tries to attract more students and thus more revenue.
Brickhouse said the role of the provost is that of referee, using a humorous example of the engineering department starting to teach Spanish in order to draw more students.
"That's something the provost can monitor and prevent from happening," she said. "But keep in mind, there's also a positive aspect to the notion that there could be some competition of this nature."
She added that in five years of that budget model at Delaware, duplication of effort has not been a problem.
Another similarity is the question being faced everywhere, about what technology now means for higher education.
She called the angst over new, free online courses a "red herring," saying the real question is about "what is teaching and learning going to look like in the future, and what are some of the ways we can better make use of faculty time?"
Brickhouse, 51, graduated from Baylor University with a degree in chemistry and did her graduate work at Purdue University. After being promoted to full professor in 1998, she began working in administrative roles including director, and later dean, of the school of education, and deputy provost.
Her research has focused on access and equity in science education. She has also worked on issues of science education policy as they connect to standards and assessments nationwide. She has been a lead or co-investigator on more than $10 million in externally funded projects, and her work has been published in journals such as Science Education and the Journal for Research in Science Teaching.
She said she was also proud of diversifying the student body and coordinating international education units in a way that benefited students.
After the forum, agriculture professor Lee Meyer said he was disappointed in Brickhouse's response about integrating sustainability into the curriculum, but pleased by the way she talked about faculty engagement.
"Her experience with a values-based budgeting model is very valuable," he said.
Former UK Provost Kumble Subbaswamy left last year to become chancellor of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. UK officials said that President Eli Capilouto hopes to hire the next provost by May.