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Tisch '76: The man on top

Correction appended.

Last Saturday, the Corporation concluded business in one of its more eventful meetings in recent memory, announcing increased financial aid, raising endowment draw and endorsing a fresh assessment of the Plan for Academic Enrichment. Following the meeting, Chancellor Thomas Tisch '76, the University's highest officer and the Corporation's leader, took a walk with The Herald around the Main Green to discuss the meeting and issues facing the University.

The Herald: There were two major concerns the University Resources Committee highlighted in its report: the competitive and political climates right now, and also concerns about a slowing economy. Were those concerns that the Corporation shared?

Thomas Tisch: There's certainly an awareness of the economy in general and financial markets specifically, but importantly, there was a very clear sense that it's important to build upon and to move forward and to some degree accelerate some of the initiatives that have begun over the last series of years in the Plan for Academic Enrichment. And to address issues that quite frankly weren't as high on people's radar screen a year or two years ago, such as the entire issue of the changing competitive environment of financial aid.

The competitive environment is tough, but in some respects it's always been somewhat tough for Brown. The University doesn't enjoy the level of endowment ... that other schools enjoy. It's interesting: For many years that might have held Brown back in terms of initiatives. For many years, while the vast majority of analogous institutions had need-blind admissions, Brown didn't. And for many years people might have said, "That's a nice idea. That's a worthy idea. We just can't afford to do it."

Part of the perspective that Ruth and her administration have brought to Brown is a change of formulation, where they said, "That's a great idea. We can't afford not to do that."

A handful of the schools that Brown traditionally competes with - particularly Harvard, Yale and Princeton - have endowments that grow by billions of dollars every year. Do you think Brown can keep up with those schools in the current environment, and should it try to?

The reality is that Brown has an enormous strength that many of those schools would like to have: the depth of engagement as a learning community, the student satisfaction with their academics, their academic work. The fact that Brown doesn't have the largest endowment hasn't stood in the way of Brown students attaining their goals at the University. And to me, it's a marvelous testament - it's one of those data points that says something about what happens here educationally.

The reality is that other schools in this environment have materially more resources to direct to certain issues. Many of the Ivy League colleges ... are at the present time engaging in just dramatic campus expansions. Yale is, Harvard is, Princeton is, Penn is, Columbia is. ... We're making material advances, and the challenge is to do that in a measured way.

You stand here on this campus - it's a magnificent campus, in a city that's gotten much better over the years, certainly better since I was at school here, with a ferocity and openness to the city, and still encapsulated. You can't imagine: It's a form of endowment that isn't measured in money. In terms of the culture here, the student satisfaction, the sense of engagement, is a piece of the endowment that can't be measured in money. So I think sometimes there can be a little bit too much emphasis on the money piece. One always has to be conscious of it in terms of resources, but it isn't everything.

Reducing the growth of tuition and expanding financial aid were stressed in the budget this year. With that in mind, do you think that a Brown education is accessible enough for low- and middle-income students?

The reality is, to find the right balance to make the education as accessible as possible: to understand the needs and responsibility to nurture this learning community and to ensure that this learning community is passed on to future generations, as we're lucky enough that it's been passed on to us. And I think the Corporation is very mindful and responsible, and also deeply caring, in an intelligent and very decent way.

There are many voices and perspectives of people in the room, and they come together. Hopefully out of that process comes wise and considered judgments.

Where do you see Brown in 10 or 15 years? How do you expect it to be different from what it is right now?

It's a moment of great generational change, but it's also a moment of great affirmation of Brown's history and traditions. A point I'd like to emphasize: The Corporation ... is a very collegial, honest, realistic, optimistic, committed group. It's an honor to be a part of the conversation, and there is an enormous sense of process and reflection in the work of the Corporation, and an enormous respect for the culture.

A photo in Monday's Herald ("Tisch '76: The man on top," Feb. 25) should have been credited to Rahul Keerthi.


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