University News

Transcript: Community-wide announcement of president-elect

By
News Editor

Chancellor Thomas Tisch ’76 and Chung-I Tan P’95 P’03, professor of physics and chair of the Campus Advisory Committee, introduced the University’s 19th president, Christina Paxson, at an event open to the entire community in Sayles Hall at noon today.

Thomas Tisch: I guess everybody knows why we’ve called everybody together today. The Corporation is so excited to announce that we have selected Christina Paxson as the 19th president of Brown University. (Applause.) I’m happy to add, as delighted as we are, she’s delighted, too. So it’s just wonderful. 

Last September, we were given a great challenge as a community, and that was to do something that seemed very difficult — to find somebody who would be a worthy and fantastic successor to our Ruth, and that’s no easy task for any community.

We assembled a search committee made up of Corporation members and members of the campus. We were 29 people in all, a group that most people would say is unworkably large, and yet, over four or five months, we met many times, and throughout it all, there was a great sense of collaboration. We came from different backgrounds, different perspectives, different disciplines, but we all worked together in the most glorious ways. There were times that the work was exhausting. It was also exhaustive. And I’m so glad that our committees worked so well together, the campus committee and the Corporation committee, because it augers so well both for the future of our community and for the success of Christina as our next president.

We held, as a search committee, campus forums. We received the feedback of so many people in the community. We spoke with Corporation members, faculty, students, staff, alumni, friends.  We were supported by search consultants who did a marvelous job. But throughout the process, we always were conscious that we needed to reaffirm all that is special about Brown — our distinctive approach to education, our sense of individual initiative in defining the course of education, our scale, our intellectual independence, our close interaction between student and faculty, the embracing at the same time of teaching and research, and how they fit so well together in this marvelous community. The mission and culture of Brown resonated with so many people as we were in the search process, but I’m happy to say it resonated with Christina as much with anybody that we met in this process.

Christina is presently the dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. Her background of scholarship and teaching excellence, combined with her leadership in every role she’s had and demonstrated managerial success, have prepared her well for the role as president of Brown. She brings a love of learning, a dedication to quality, and core values of integrity, passion, insight, caring and warmth to the job.  Christina has been a member of the faculty at Princeton since 1986. In 2000, she founded the Center for Health and Wellbeing, a multidisciplinary health research center. She took on one of the most, the toughest jobs at Princeton University, the chair of the economics department, and in that job, I would say, the reports that we’ve heard back is she was one of the great chairs of the economics department at Princeton in modern history. Her research on health, economic development of public policy with a current focus on economic status and health outcomes over life course in both developing countries and the developed world has won her awards – research awards and research grants – from the National Institute of Health and others. She received her undergraduate degree from Swarthmore in 1982 with honors and her PhD from Columbia University in 1987.

What we haven’t said yet is, Christina has known Brown for a long time. Her brother was in the class of 1975, and one of the wonderful things in this search process was the discovery — I don’t know if I should say this because somebody might think there’s a conflict, Christina, but Chung-I Tan, who was the chair of the Corporation committee — he was the teacher of your brothers, and he wrote a recommendation for your brother when he applied to architecture school, and he is a successful architect today.

Christina’s work at Woodrow Wilson has really been extraordinary — she’s moved key initiatives forward, she has emphasized and brought forward the community, bringing in disciplines from the arts and the humanities all the way through the sciences, and she’s done it with just a perfectly light touch and a very effective manner. She’s also taken the school and made it a happy place, and if she can make Brown any happier, I think we’d probably burst the thermometer.

So, before we hear from you, Christina, I’d like to introduce for a couple of words Chung-I Tan, who was the chairman of the campus search committee, and as well importantly, the recommender of your brother to architecture school. Welcome.

(Applause.)

Chung-I Tan: I’m speaking as the chair of the Campus Advisory Committee. We are very honored to join in this process. We worked with the Presidential Selection Committee of the Corporation, and, thanks to the chancellor, we were really honored and pleased to be able to be working together as full partners. It has been a very truly collaborative process, and we are so happy that Christina, with a full and enthusiastic support from both committees, has accepted our offer as the next president of Brown University.

Perhaps I should begin by echoing, briefly mention that finding someone to replace Ruth has been a really, really challenging task. But nevertheless, we persevered, we went ahead. We began the process by listening carefully to the campus community. Their impulse led to the presidential search statement – we identified Brown’s distinctiveness and its core values.  We discussed Brown’s future, we stressed the importance for the next president they must possess a clear vision, one that embraces the community’s core values and emphasizes a liberal education in a contemporary setting. The president must also be equipped with, implement academic excellence in fulfilling Brown’s promise as a leading research university.

Lastly, we also understand that another important quality is the ability to engage in fundraising and in studying strategic priorities. This particular presidential statement serves as a guide as we met and evaluated many, many very, very talented candidates. The committee members engaged in a thoughtful and deliberate process to identify a candidate with the experience, personal characteristics and accomplishments that align with the interests of the community.  We are particularly impressed by Dr. Paxson’s accomplishments, skills and style, and agree that she is extremely well-suited to the challenge and opportunity facing Brown’s next president.

Dr. Paxs
on
embraces Brown’s culture and shares our values. She understands academic excellence in an institution of liberal learning; she believes in the value of diversity; she is empathetic with the needs of our community; she has a deep understanding of many challenges facing all leading American universities; she appreciates a global Brown curriculum and educational opportunities. Dr. Paxson possesses strong leadership qualities: As a consensus builder, she has demonstrated the ability to get faculty from a variety of disciplines to work together, to bring about change. As an outstanding scholar, Dr. Paxson is poised to lead Brown to a higher dimension in the coming years.

Finally, I’ll just speak a little bit about the process; I think it’s important. This particular search involves two committees. We started our deliberations with great communication, coordination, and respect. The working culture of our group has been great. We always look forward to the future in the best interests of Brown. The degree of seriousness in carrying out our charge in a seamless manner bodes well for both the success of our next president and the future of the University. For that, I actually would like to thank the corporate members in working together with the campus-based advisory committee. And, in particular, I would like to thank Chancellor Tom Tisch for his exemplary leadership.

So, with that, we are really happy to welcome President Paxson to Brown.

(Applause.)

TT: Can I ask everyone for one second – could everyone sit for one second? And I’d like for all the members of the search committee who are here, for those members of the search committee who are here, for them, for those members to stand please.

(Applause.)

I want to thank them for the extraordinary spirit and intelligence brought to the task, Chung-I, you as well. I want to sing aloud Jerome Vascellaro, our vice-chancellor, for his tireless work in this process. It’s been a great journey. And I want to thank everybody in the room for not pushing them too hard. They were able to keep this work just extraordinarily confidential and that helped us come up with the result we’ve come up with today.

I also want to say, because of Christina’s relentless pursuit of quality, her unwavering devotion to academic excellence, her personal passion for teaching and research, her remarkable record of leadership and impact, her inspiring style and character, the committee and the members of the Corporation are honored to present to you all today to the campus and the community, the 19th president of Brown University, Christina Paxson. Welcome.

(Applause.)

Christina Paxson: Thank you so much. It is impossible to describe what I feel right now. This is just such a pleasure and a privilege and a deep honor to have been selected to be the 19th president of Brown University. I can’t think of any place I’d rather be than here right now. I noted at a Corporation meeting this morning that I am very aware that I have been given a great trust, something very important to care for. I’ve been asked to lead the growth and development of an institution that many, many faculty, staff, students, alumni, care about very deeply, and it’s a huge responsibility, and I can tell you now that I will live up – try my very best to do, to live up to the high expectations that you rightly have for Brown’s next president.

I have long had a deep respect for Brown, and I’m going to do something that probably nobody should do, which is I’m going to go off my notes. But Tom brought up my brother, and I want to tell you my first experience with Brown, which was: My big brother was this kind of clean-cut, studious kid who went off to Brown University, and I’ll remember him coming back Thanksgiving vacation to Pittsburgh, and he had long hair. (Laughter.) He was listening to new music. He argued with my mother about the ethics of eating meat. (Laughter.) And my mother was horrified, and I thought that this was what happened to everybody when they went to college. (Laughter.) And then I realized, no it doesn’t actually, it’s Brown. It’s Brown.

But to be serious, I mean, Brown is known for its deep commitment to excellence, and I’ve known that for a long time. It’s only been in the last several months during conversations with members of the Corporation, the faculty, the students and the staff who have served on the selection committee that I have been able to develop a really much fuller appreciation of Brown’s distinctive values, character and spirit. So, what did I learn? Mostly things that people in this room probably already know. I mean I learned about Brown’s approach to learning and scholarship, the focus on intellectual independence, that spirit of free inquiry that’s noted in Brown’s mission statement, and I learned how that provides a core value that informs all aspects of the teaching and learning and research that go on on this campus. Brown’s focus on discovering, communication, and preserving knowledge and understanding is responsible for generations of alumni who come out of here with wide-ranging intellects and an appreciation for the value of a liberal arts education and a faculty that produces first-class research.

I also learned that there’s a strong feeling at Brown that research and education enhance and reinforce each other, and that’s something that’s been very much consistent with my own experience. Brown’s dedication to maintaining a terrific undergraduate program, first-class with a lot of dedication to undergraduates, while focusing on the creation of new knowledge is something very special and something that is very important to protect. I learned that Brown celebrates the creative and intellectual potential of the individual, and by sowing those seeds, it has cultivated a very diverse and wonderful community that enhances the educational quality, educational experience for everybody, and it’s displayed an admirable dedication to increasing access to higher education by strengthening financial aid and through other means. So, you know, the truth is, I learned a lot, and everything I learned just made me feel more strongly about this institution.

I think the most important thing is that I see in Brown an aspiration to continue to grow and change and improve. Everything I’ve learned about Brown indicates that this is anything but a complacent campus, and that’s a very good thing. So, I’m excited to be somewhere where people have energy and spirit; I think it’s that energy and spirit that will help the University continue to thrive going forward, and I am eager to work in collaboration with members of the Brown community to help direct that energy as we move forward.

Now I know that Brown, like all universities, has a larger role to play in the world, both locally and globally, and this is something that I’m very interested in, something I’ve thought about a lot in my previous jobs. I’m excited about coming to Brown. I’m looking forward to being a proud resident of
the city of Providence and the state of Rhode Island, and it’s clear that Brown has long contributed to the success of this region, and I am looking forward to continuing to build a positive and constructive relationship with the city and state once I assume my responsibilities.

I know that over the next decade, we’re going to face big challenges in health and health care in this country – this is something I’ve done a lot of work on and very interested in – and having Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School here and a rapidly developing school of public health, I hope that Brown can play an important role in improving the quality of health and health care in the region.

And, of course, I’ve done a lot of work in international efforts, and I look at what Brown has done to internationalize the campus, and it’s terrific, and I’m very much looking forward to helping to continue with that.

So, before I stop, I just want to say a few more things. The first is to thank Ruth Simmons.

(Applause.)

You know, in large part because of her efforts together with efforts of members of the Corporation, alumni, students, faculty, staff, the whole Brown community, Brown is currently in a very strong position, so the challenge for the next president of Brown is one that any soon-to-be university president would envy, which is to work with members of a remarkable community with the goal of making an outstanding institution even better, and it doesn’t get much better than that, and I’m very delighted to be doing it. 

Now, I recognize that in what I’ve learned about Brown, I’m just starting to scratch the surface. This is a rich institution with a lot going on and a lot of history, and so I know I have a lot of learning ahead of me, and I’m looking forward to doing it. I hope that in the coming months and years I can count on the counsel of all members of the Brown community, especially during my first year, I will be in active learning mode, and so I look forward to working with all of you, talking to all of you, meeting all of you, and thanks again for coming out today. I really appreciate it.

(Applause.)

TT: Everybody in the room and everybody on the web is invited to the Campus Center for a celebration. Thank you all.