University News

Chancellor, vice chancellor reflect on terms

Tisch ’76 P’18, Vascellaro ’74 P’07 talk Corporation governance structure, University mission

News Editor
Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Thomas Tisch ’76 P’18, managing partner of New York City investment firm Four Partners, will finish his term as Chancellor in May.

After nine years, two presidents and dozens of corporation meetings, Chancellor Thomas Tisch ’76 P’18 and Vice Chancellor Jerome Vascellaro ’74 P’07 will end their third and final terms as leaders of the University’s Corporation in May.

Outside of being leaders of the Corporation, Tisch serves as a managing partner in the New York City investment firm Four Partners. Vascellaro is a partner, chief operating officer and member of the executive committee of TPG Capital, a private equity investment firm.

Tisch and Vascellaro joined the University’s Corporation in 2002 and 1999, respectively. The pair were chosen to serve as chancellor and vice chancellor in 2007, in the midst of former President Ruth Simmons’ leadership. During their tenure, both men have served as the “moderators” of the corporation, as defined by the University’s charter from 1776.

“It’s a privilege to play these roles,” Vascellaro said. “Just being a trustee, I think, is a great privilege and enormously satisfying both because of the institution and the people you get to work with.”

The role of the Corporation

The Corporation’s overall purpose is one of shared governance that takes into consideration the long-term goals and perspectives of the University, Tisch said.

The University’s mission, as defined by the charter, guides the Corporation, he added. The mission articulates a few different purposes: serving both the national and international community, preserving and discovering knowledge with a spirit of free inquiry and blending “the University and college” together, Tisch said.

Something that is not very visible to many community members is the difference between the role of the Corporation and the role of the University’s administration, Vascellaro said. While the Corporation governs, the University’s senior administration manages and leads the University.

For example, the senior administration hires faculty members and sets tuition rates, though tuition rates are approved by the Corporation, he said.

While Tisch and Vascellaro, along with their predecessors, have tried to maintain a clear definition of the two bodies, “the interrelationship … makes it magical,” Vascellaro said.

The University’s 54-member body consists of 42 trustees and 12 fellows. The Corporation is not a representative body, but instead is “a self-sustaining body as defined by the charter,” Tisch said.

Of the 42 trustees, 14 are elected by alums — three of which must be the current and past two chairs of the University’s Alumni Association, according to the Corporation’s website. The remaining members of the Board of Trustees are referred to as “term trustees” and are nominated by the Corporation’s Committee on Trustee Vacancies.

The chancellor and vice chancellor preside over the trustees, while the president, who is considered a fellow, presides over the fellows, according to the website.

While members of the Corporation are not executives or managers of the University, they have the power to assess the University to make sure its course is consistent with its “highest aspiration and deepest values,” while also serving as consultants for the president, Tisch said.

Issues that come to the Corporation come with input from students, faculty members or alums through a network of committees and structures within the Corporation, Tisch said. The only power that is reserved solely to the Corporation is choosing the president of the University, he added.

The last nine years

One of the most daunting tasks the chancellor and vice chancellor took on during their tenures is the selection of President Christina Paxson P’19 as leader of the University, Tisch said.

The presidential selection committee, chaired by the chancellor, consisted of two committees: one made up of 16 members of the Corporation and another “campus committee” chosen by representative groups on campus and made up of 13 undergraduate and graduate students, staff members and faculty members, Tisch said.

Before Simmons came to Brown, there was a sense that the University was on “hiatus” during the presidency of E. Gordon Gee, who served for just two years before he left the University to become chancellor of Vanderbilt University, Tisch said.

When Simmons came to Brown, she challenged the community to aspire to more, he said. For example, Simmons worked to integrate Pembroke campus and main campus, which used to be “poles apart” — the only way to get there was through “dumpster ally,” Tisch said.

In addition, the University was also one of the first to study its historical relationship with the slave trade through the Slavery and Justice Report released in 2006, Tisch said. Other universities such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton are just starting to engage with their own relationships with the slave trade, he added.

Tuned in

The shared governance between the Corporation and senior administration allows the Corporation to be receptive to the community, Tisch said.

Members of the Corporation pay attention to campus publications and the Undergraduate Council of Students, especially its fall poll. The poll can be very helpful because “oftentimes it’s really easy to hear very loud voices, and it’s not easy to feel that one’s naturally hearing all the voices,” Tisch said.

The Corporation also receives input from faculty and staff members who shape the community, Tisch said. Some members of the Corporation are also parents of students, Tisch said, allowing them to have closer connections to the community.

In addition, the Corporation’s young alumni trustee, currently Kayla Rosen ’14, helps the governing body keep in touch with students, Tisch said.

For the first time last spring, the young alumni trustee was selected with input from a student committee, made up of three undergrad and two graduate students, The Herald previously reported.

“It’s a really difficult balance because the fact is that we don’t want to be so completely visible that we’re seen in a managerial way,” Tisch said. “We want to make sure that the biggest issues are getting to us in a way we can assess and consult as desired and required.”

Brown today

Once Paxson stepped up as president, she carried on the same deep commitment Simmons had toward teaching and research and finding ways the two can work together, Tisch said.

“In many communities, those are seen as a dichotomy,” he added. “Brown has always strived for the idea that they can exist together.” Tisch cited Undergraduate Teaching and Research Awards and the opportunity to participate in classes typically reserved for graduate students as examples of the two working together.

The University has a relatively compact administrative structure, he said. While some Universities have separate colleges with their own deans and endowments, collaboration among fields and departments comes naturally at Brown. The aspiration is to live up to the ability to operate in the spaces between fields, he added.

Many people at larger Universities with more rigid managerial structures would give up large portions of their endowments to have elements of an administration like Brown’s, Tisch said, comparing the structure of the University to “a Silicon Valley startup.”

Even though the University has a school of medicine, public health and soon a school of engineering, the administrative, financial and fundraising operatives of the University are cohesive.

Saying goodbye

“From the minute I walked onto this campus, Brown has always been a special place,” Tisch said. “It’s been interesting over the years to parse out what makes Brown so special.”

The students of the University have always been on Vascellaro’s mind while serving as vice chancellor, he said, adding that about 20,000 students have graduated from Brown during their nine-year terms.

“Twenty-thousand lives have been changed; 20,000 families have been changed. I always admit that I cry at most graduations,” Vascellaro said. “Part of what this institution is about is those 20,000 graduates and the 20,000 that will come in the next nine years, and making sure that they’ve had the kind of experiences we’ve had and they deserve. I never take my eye off of that in terms of why we’re doing this.”

While Tisch and Vascellaro will end their time on the Corporation, both look to continue being “very involved in Brown,” Tisch said.

“What makes Brown ‘Brown’ is the people who teach, discover, live, study and work here, and (Tisch and Vascellaro) really have the sensitivity and the knowledge to understand that,” Paxson wrote in an email to The Herald. “I think it really comes from what each of them brought to their respective roles.”

Though Tisch has told Paxson that he didn’t agree with all the choices the University was making years ago, he has moved to take some ownership over the priorities of the University, Paxson wrote. Both Tisch and Vascellaro have been fully dedicated to the University’s success, she added.

Vascellaro echoed that sentiment, saying that both he and Tisch have been “unequivocally, unambiguously committed to the University’s success.”

Vascellaro recalled the words of his senior orator, Charles Tansey ’74, during his commencement: “We are never going to miss Brown because we are taking a piece of it with us.”

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