The day after Professor of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences Sheila Blumstein was sworn in as interim president, she was phoning the National Institutes of Health about a grant. A longtime researcher of aphasia, a brain disorder that results in an inability to comprehend words, Blumstein had been trying to get her research funding extended when Chancellor Stephen Robert asked her to accept the job. “I asked if I could think about it,” she recalled, “and Steve said, ‘No, you don’t want to think about it.’ ” Now she was making sure the promotion wouldn’t jeopardize her grant.
A member of the Brown faculty for the past thirty years, Blumstein has also served as interim provost and dean of the College, jobs she did so well that she had trouble convincing the University to let her get back to research after her terms were up. She admits to mixed feelings about being Brown’s first female president. “On one level, yes, of course I’m happy about it,” she says. “It certainly reflects what we’re about at Brown. On the other hand, I know I was selected because of my abilities and not solely because I’m a woman.”
Blumstein hopes that the University will have a permanent president in place in a year, when she can get back to the lab. Until then, she’s glad to help. “There are times in life that require that you do something that you wouldn’t normally do,” she says. “Brown has been my life since I was twenty-six years old. I love everything about it.”