Barbara Brownstein, Temple’s first provost, died of heart disease.
Last week, a memorial service was held for the university’s first provost, Dr. Barbara Brownstein, an internationally recognized geneticist and distinguished professor emeritus of biology and women’s studies. Brownstein died of heart disease at age 79, on Feb. 11, at the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle.
A Philadelphia native, Brownstein served Temple for approximately 25 years and became the first woman in a senior vice president for academic affairs position when President Peter Liacouras hired her as the university’s first provost in 1982. Brownstein assisted faculty across departments to advance academic research and teaching principles; notably the university-wide Core Curriculum, which has since been replaced by the general education curriculum.
“She was a woman in science ahead of her time,” said Associate Professor of Religion and Women’s Studies Rebecca Alpert. “She did a lot of things in a really quiet way that had an enormous impact on what this institution is now.”
Brownstein, whose parents were first-generation Americans of Ukrainian descent, was the first person in her family to go to college. She attended the University of Pennsylvania where she received both her bachelor’s degree in biology in 1957 and her doctorate in microbiology in 1961.
While an undergraduate, Brownstein worked to care for two children after she was divorced from her husband. Several years later, in 1968, she began teaching at Temple as an associate professor of biology.
“She did an extraordinary job raising two children on her own, and she was a model for me to pursue any path that I wanted,” her daughter Dena Brownstein said.
During Brownstein’s tenure as a professor of biology, she became known as a “smart force,” said Professor of Physics Dieter Forster. Forster added that one of the reasons why Brownstein was appointed to provost was because she was a good researcher.
As provost, Brownstein helped the university gain funding for research centers and hired faculty who had research reputations. Her efforts, with the support of the university administration, allowed Temple to earn the designation as a Carnegie Research University.
“Before that designation as a research university, there was a lot of research going on,” Forster said. “But at some point you want to put a stamp on it saying that is important to us. That’s what we want to do, and that happened with that designation under her guidance.”
In addition, Brownstein was known by faculty for having an agenda to improve academic standards for undergraduate and graduate students on all Temple campuses including the Tokyo and Rome. She developed university outreach by forming relationships with the Philadelphia School District and community organizations.
“She was very pro-Temple. I never heard her ever be condescending toward Temple students,” Professor of Biology Karen Palter said. “She was around a lot, so you always saw her and everybody recognized her.”
In the provost office, Brownstein often selected female associates to assist her, including former vice provosts Jan Somerville and Julia Ericksen.
“She was committed to Temple’s mission which was access plus excellence, so that people should be able to come here and have a chance to do well, but that it was still going to be a rigorous program,” said Ericksen, who is a professor of sociology.
“I think [Brownstein] was very good at inspiring people to do their upmost with the limited resources available,” Ericksen added.
Interim Provost Richard Englert said he first came to know Brownstein when she became provost. When Englert later became the dean of the college of education, he reported to her. He said he admired her leadership.
“She came in with strong academic backgrounds and strong academic standards,” Englert said. “She was one of [the] people, when she developed a strategic academic plan, who helped lay the foundation for the Temple University of today.”
Englert said Brownstein was especially good at inspiring faculty, and she developed the Great Teachers Award with Liacouras. Englert said she had the ability to be a catalyst to move programs forward, such as the women’s studies and African-American studies departments and the university-wide honors program.
“With her leadership and her people skills, I think she was able to get people engaged,” Englert said. “She could inspire creativity and greater ideas, and at the same time she could put together the systematic organization and structures to take those ideas and move them forward.”
Brownstein resigned as provost in 1991 and returned to teaching biology courses. She served on the board at the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C., during that time.
“She taught science courses that had a women’s perspective,” Alpert said. “She was really concerned with science education and really wanted to change the way science was taught.
Approximately 10 years ago, Brownstein moved to Lopez Island, Washington, and served on its district school board.
Alpert said she was impressed with the progress Brownstein had made when she visited the schools.
“She just took over the schools,” Alpert said. “She helped the students go to the mainland and expand their outlook on life.”
For Dena Brownstein and her sister, Judy Kaufmann, Dena Brownstein said it was never a question that they would both attend college.
“Ever since we were very young, it was something that was expected,” Dena Brownstein said. “It didn’t take a push given all the opportunities we had been given after all the barriers that she had.”
Brownstein is survived by her sister, Linda Eskin, daughters, Dena Brownstein and Judy Kaufmann, grandchildren, Sophie Williams, Madeleine Williams, Laura Kaufmann Belkhayat, and Matthew Kaufmann and her great-grandson, Sebastien “Bash” Belkhayat.
Contributions in her memory can be made to Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Resource Services of the San Juan Islands, Washington, or to the Temple University Women’s Studies Program, c/o Temple University Institutional Advancement, P.O. Box 827651, Philadelphia, PA 19182-7651. Please include in the memo line, “In memory of Barbara Brownstein.”
Connor Showalter can be reached at email@example.com.