University News

Transcript: Press conference with Paxson, Tisch

By
News Editor
Friday, March 2, 2012

Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations, and Chancellor Thomas Tisch ’76 led a press conference at the Maddock Alumni Center at 11:30 this morning to introduce the University’s 19th president, Christina Paxson.

Marisa Quinn: Good morning. It’s great to have you all here, thank you for coming for this very exciting and historic day. We have two speakers this morning. First, our chancellor Tom Tisch will say a few words and introduce our second speaker. And after some brief remarks, we will open up to questions. I would ask that when you pose your question, you introduce yourself and let us know the media outlet you’re representing. And following the question period, about five of 12, no later, we will be walking over to Sayles Hall and you’re all welcome to join us for the official campus announcement. So with that, Tom. 

Thomas Tisch: I hope I’m going to be blessedly brief. We’re all due at Sayles at five of 12. This morning the Brown Corporation, on the recommendation of the search committee, elected Christina Paxson as our 19th president. We couldn’t be more pleased or more excited. Members of the search committee are here. We were a 29 person search committee. We worked tirelessly, collaboratively, and I think, amazingly effectively to end up with the (person) that we have chosen as the next president, Christina Paxson. I think you all have biographical material. Is that the case? So, I’m not going to go through it at length, I will just say that her background skills and sensibility fit so perfectly with Brown, and we’re so pleased to welcome her in the community. So, with that, Christina, welcome. 

Christina Paxson: Thank you. (Applause.) Thanks to all of you for coming. I am just, this is an amazing day for me. I am privileged and honored to have been chosen to be the next president of Brown University. I’ve learned so much about the University in the past months as I’ve been being interviewed for this appointment and have just really fallen in love with its distinctive approach to education, the quality of its students, the quality of its faculty. I’m just very excited about coming here. I am looking forward to being a member of the Brown community, I’m looking forward to being a resident of Providence and the state of Rhode Island and just delighted. So, I’m happy to take your questions, and talk about any aspects of my career and my plans. 

 

What are your plans? 

CP: You know, one thing that’s great about Brown is that under Ruth Simmons’ leadership, it’s in an exceptionally strong position. The faculty has grown, some really amazing programs have been built up over the past 10 years. So, you know, my strategy is really to build from strength, which is the best possible place that a new president can be. I’m very interested in working with members of the Brown community to build a University that is a world class research institution as well as one that cares deeply about undergraduate education. And Brown is clearly already in that mold, that I think it’s a community that always wants to improve. It isn’t complacent, which I think is terrific, and I’m really eager to spend a lot of time talking to students, faculty, alumni, members of the community in the region and learning more about Brown. It’s hard to make very definite plans until you spend a lot of time getting immersed in the community and figuring out where people are and what their ambitions are. 

 

You have a background in health economics. Can you tell us a little bit about your passion for that subject and how it might influence your time here at Brown?

CP: Well, yes, I have been working in health economics for maybe the past 10, 15 years. My work has really spanned health issues in both developed as well as developing countries, which is a little bit unusual. In the U.S., I spent a lot of time working on issues of disparities in health and healthcare across low and high income groups and different racial and ethnic groups. And so I really do care about the quality of health care in America. I think that ties into Brown in a way, because I’m currently at an institution that does not have a medical school and it doesn’t have a school of public health. And for somebody who has worked in this area, coming to an institution as great as Brown that also has expertise in this area and that’s also in a great position where it can really help the region build its, the quality of health care it’s delivered in a very exciting time for this nation. That’s a real (production) for me.

 

You come in a time when the city’s in a really rough spot financially. Where do you see Brown’s role with helping the city? And specifically, obviously, the discussion over are you going to support paying more?

CP: Well, you know, you’re right. As an economist, I pay attention to, I pay close attention to what’s going on. Not just with Providence, but with many other cities across the nation, Trenton, cities in New Jersey are hurting, too. So I realize it’s a very difficult time. I am very much of the view that universities and cities and regions should be partners. And that there are many mutually beneficial activities that they can engage in. And coming here and figuring out how that works and what those might be, is something that I’m very interested in doing. The current negotiations — President (Ruth) Simmons has had very productive conversations with people in the city. She is very much the president until June 30th, and I look forward to picking up that when I assume my duties. 

 

What initially attracted you to coming to Brown and what have you learned since you first got the idea of perhaps this might be a home for you?

CP: Well, I’ve always had a lot of respect for Brown. My brother was a Brown student so I’ve known about it as I was a child. And as an academic, learning more about it. And I’ve always known it to be, I think the most important thing for me is to be in an institution that values undergraduate education, but also values scholarship, and that combination is not incredibly common. Brown does this beautifully. So that was the primary motivation. And I think as I learned more about Brown and I met members of the search committee, I got just a really good sense of, I don’t know, the spirit of independence and just a real vitality of Brown that I hadn’t appreciated when I started. And as I got to learn about that, it became more and more attractive. 

 

What do you think your biggest challenge will be going forward with Brown University?

CP: You know, it’s hard for me to think of huge challenges, because this University is in very good, in a very good situation right now. This is not the kind of presidency where you’re being asked to come in and fix huge problems. You know, as long as p
eople are open to change and willing to work, I think that there are only good things ahead. The economic issues are challenging. They’re challenging not just for the city but they’re also challenging for American families. Brown has taken a great role in building financial aid and support for students to try to keep universities successful. That’s something that will continue to be something that we just really have to pay attention to. 

 

Have you had a chance to take a look at the tuition situation here at Brown, and what are your thoughts on that?

CP: Well, you know, it’s interesting. I know what Brown has decided and I know what other universities of Brown’s caliber have decided. It’s clear that Brown has been very mindful of how it sets increases in tuition. And it’s also been very mindful of how it chooses to allocate financial aid. So that, you know, the increase in financial aid has been going up, going along at the same time that tuition has been going up. So that for many students, lower-income students, middle class students, Brown has made a commitment to being affordable, and that’s very admirable. 

 

So that’s what you want to do going forward, as far as tuition is concerned?

CP: Well, sure. You know, tuition is something that’s really driven a lot by markets. We have to pay attention to health care costs and labor costs and construction costs, the same as any other business, and we have a responsibility to try to keep those costs at a reasonable level. And that’s something that I will pay attention to, for sure. 

 

As an economist, do you think you might be able to offer some suggestions to the city of Providence (in its current financial situation)?

CP: I wish I could give the city of Providence a magic bullet. I would love to be able to do that. I just don’t know enough yet to be able to give it advice. That would be a little presumptuous at this point. 

 

You mentioned that if people are open to change you think there are good things ahead. So, what changes would you like to make at Brown?

CP: Well I think, you know, I am not coming into Brown with a list of changes I want to make. That’s really not how thing work in universities. Universities are very collaborative places where you get input from lots of people and so any president who comes in with a list is going to be a short-lived president. (Laughter.) It just doesn’t work that way. What I am really interested in doing, broad things, I’m interested in building Brown’s capacity as a global University. I think that’s one of the big things that we’re looking forward to. I’m interested in developing links between the sciences and social sciences and humanities. I’ve done a lot of work in multidisciplinary areas. So, there are many exciting things to do. What I will have fun doing is spending my first weeks and months at Brown, and probably even years at Brown, really getting to know the institution, figuring out where the energy and excitement is and helping to channel those great ideas into building the University and to make it even better. 

 

What about your family? Are they moving to Providence?

CP: This is a question that is very much under debate. My husband, Ari Gabinet ––

Ari Gabinet [from the back]: Yes!

CP: Yes? He says “yes!” (Laughter.)

I have a 22-year-old who was, even long before this was happening, was planning to head off to the West Coast, and I have a 14-year-old son who is undecided at this point. He has the option of staying where he is if he wants to. 

 

What attracts you to a university presidency?

CP: That’s a really good question. I think it’s not really a generic attraction. I mean, there are many universities in the world that I would not want to be president of. 

 

Name a couple.

(Laughter.)

CP: Never! 

(Laughter.)

CP: But you know, Brown is just such a special place. What I like doing is working with groups of people to plan for growth and plan for new things. That’s what I love doing. But I love doing it at a university where I feel like my values are consistent with the values of the institution. I think in Brown, I’m just so fortunate to be selected because on my side, it’s a great match. And I’m glad that the search committee thought so, too. 

 

TT: And I know the members of the search committee who are here would agree with that completely. We feel so lucky that you are here with us and we look forward to the journey ahead.

 

To Tisch: What is it about her that made you settle on Dr. Paxson?

TT: I would say, for the search committee it was the combination of her skills, her experience, her temperament, her sensibility and her love of the values of Brown. The scale of Brown, the distinctiveness of our curriculum and community, the sense of engaged learning, and the sense of teaching and scholarship that can go hand-in-hand. And for all of those reasons it seemed to us just to be a completely natural, comfortable and perfect fit. We’re all so excited that Christina is here to be our next president. 

 

MQ: You’re all welcome to come to Sayles Hall. We’ll be walking over there for the official campus announcement and you’re more than welcome. 

TT: Great, thanks everybody.

CP: Thank you.