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John Hughes Becomes Our Associate Chair

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The continued expansion of Brown University's Department of Computer Science (Brown CS) has brought an important milestone: an Associate Chair will now assist Department Chair Ugur Cetintemel with important duties, and Professor John "Spike" Hughes will fill the role. Professor Tom Doeppner continues in his role as Vice-Chair.

"Things don't always scale up nicely," John explains. "Doubling in size as a department actually means four or eight or sixteen times as many things to do. Ugur has done a really wonderful job, with Tom's huge help, but the workload has gotten to be too much." He's looking forward to being a "sanity check" and sounding board, helping with tasks and giving feedback on ideas that are important but don't require the attention of the Executive Committee.

As one example of an early task, Spike explains that he'll be helping allocate faculty members to the various Brown CS committees in late summer.  "It's mostly mechanical," he says, but no doubt it's still a considerable balancing act, and a careful weighing of preferences and aptitudes and workloads. A bigger effort will be to work with the faculty to conduct a self-study of Brown CS, looking at strengths, weaknesses, obstacles, and opportunities. It's the groundwork for a detailed review that Brown conducts approximately every five years to guide its academic departments and help them make improvements.

What does this change of roles mean for his career? "It might end it!" he jokes, but quickly turns serious. "My whole career has been a little peculiar. I was trained to be a mathematician, so nobody taught me how to teach, or to run a research group. Likewise, I haven't been trained in administrative work, but I've seen enough of what happens here to know what goes on, and I have a pretty strong sense of fairness. I'll be relying on that to be my guide when tricky things come up." 

If there's one thing John wants to do, he says, it's simplify, looking at every aspect of the items that cross his desk and asking if they're all necessary. "If I find that we've been asking what a particular committee has done for the past five years, it might be a good choice to get rid of it and talk about the same issues over coffee."

Few are likely to object, and faculty, students, and staff have already started sharing their enthusiasm for Spike's energy and skill. "I'm truly grateful to John for his willingness to serve in this demanding role," says Ugur. "I've had the privilege to work with him closely as part of our Executive Committee, and have always been informed and inspired by his exceptional wisdom and intellect. At a time when CS has become a central discipline for all and our department has become the largest at Brown, getting Spike's help in this leadership role will let us better address the needs of our increasingly bigger and more diverse community."

For more information, please click the link that follows to contact Brown CS Communication Outreach Specialist Jesse C. Polhemus.