Christina Paxson was officially sworn in July 2 after being named the University’s 19th president in March.
The former dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs has made several visits to College Hill in recent months – including a trip to campus for Commencement in May – and last month, she and her family moved to Providence, where they have been subletting a place while the president’s house is being painted. Since then, she has met with faculty, members of the Corporation and Rhode Island officials, among others, to prepare for taking office.
While there is “no great sense of urgency” at the start of her term, there is also “no need to slow down,” Paxson told The Herald.
“We don’t want to pause,” she said. “There are so many wonderful initiatives in the pipeline, and there are things we know want to do. And so we don’t have the luxury or the need to sit back for a year.”
Throughout the summer, Paxson will meet individually with department chairs and program directors in their offices. From her meetings so far, Paxson said she has been struck by the collaboration across disciplines.
“It’s not as if each department is a little self-contained unit – people work across areas,” Paxson said. “Learning about these layers of connections is just incredibly useful.”
Paxson has also met with local officials, including Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14. In May, the University agreed to contribute an additional $31.5 million to the city over 11 years, a deal that followed months of tense discussions. Paxson said she is grateful the negotiations were completed prior to her tenure.
“What it’s done is given me the opportunity to start with a very clean slate,” she said. “The mayor is very positively inclined to collaborating with Brown, and instead of talking about money flows from Brown to the city, we can really start to talk about true collaboration, things that are of mutual interest.”
Paxson said she hopes to be involved in continuous discussions with the city about potential ways to join forces, including developing Providence’s Knowledge District.
“We’re just in the very early stages, so I cannot predict where we will end up,” Paxson said. She stressed the importance of moving quickly, adding that the University will have to make some important decisions “in the next six to nine months.”
Paxson said she hopes to have a detailed plan for a major strategic initiative by the end of her first year. The University is currently developing a framework for the planning phase, though Paxson said the planning itself will not start in earnest until the fall.
As part of the planning initiatives this coming year, the University will start discussing a capital campaign, a timeline for which is still undetermined, Paxson said. While the campaign will likely provide resources for some ongoing efforts – like renovations to residence halls, plans to build a new School of Engineering and bolstered funding for financial aid and athletics – Paxson said it will also include other projects. She also stressed that fundraising efforts will continue outside of a capital campaign.
Paxson said she looks forward to the growth of Brown’s research profile, emphasizing that Brown’s strength comes from its focus on unifying teaching and scholarship.
“What excites me the most is the idea of developing programs that engage both students and faculty in scholarship on common themes,” Paxson said. “So it’s a very integrated approach. It’s not ‘Are we going to be a research university or are we going to be a teaching university?’”
Paxson said she imagines much of the research will be collaborative across departments and will often tackle global issues. Building a network of international collaborators with complementary interests will be vital, she said.
“We have more good ideas than we have resources, and I’d rather be in that position than the reverse,” Paxson said.