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Tisch signs on to third term as chancellor

Emphasizing ‘continuity over coasting,’ Tisch has worked since 2007 to guide U. initiatives

Chancellor Thomas Tisch ’76 will serve a third and final three-year term in his position, continuing to steward the University’s strategic planning in the aftermath of the “financial convulsions of 2008,” Tisch said.

“It’s no surprise to anyone,” said Professor of Anthropology and Italian Studies David Kertzer ’69, who served as provost during the end of former chancellor Stephen Robert’s ’62 P’91 final term and the first part of Tisch’s tenure. “He’s been a very vigorous and effective chancellor. People would have been stunned and disappointed if he hadn’t been willing to do a third term.”

Maintaining a commitment to academic excellence, finding the right balance between teaching and research and keeping the community strong given current economic challenges will guide his final term, Tisch said.

He also identified attaining need-blind admission for international students as an important objective for the Corporation.


The role of the chancellor

The University charter charges the chancellor with serving “as a moderator of the Trustees,” who make up the body of the Corporation.

“I don’t feel like I spend my time promoting my points of view,” Tisch said. Rather, he said, he tries to facilitate discussion among various University constituencies.

The role of the chancellor is to support the president in his or her initiatives and to change the University through the work of the president, administration and faculty, Kertzer said.

University governing boards such as the Corporation are ultimately responsible for determining their university’s broad mission, said Larry Gerber, higher education expert and the chair of the Committee on College and University Governance of the American Association of University Professors. Because the mission is usually stable, it is more important that the governing board ensures the university is financially stable and that the president is doing an effective job, Gerber noted.

“We want to stand for continuity rather than coasting,” Tisch said.

“Brown’s model of shared governance works exceptionally well, in large part due to the leadership of the Corporation,” President Christina Paxson wrote in an email to The Herald. “The role of the chancellor, and the other senior officers of the Corporation, is to work with the president to set goals for the University and to support and evaluate progress toward those goals.”

Paxson wrote that she shares a “very close partnership” with Tisch, calling that relationship crucial to successful university governance.

“One of the most important things for a governing board is not to get involved in micromanagement,” Gerber said. “Self-restraint is an important role.”

“(Tisch) has helped our Corporation set the right tone where it plays a high level worrying about long-term future of the University and doesn’t get involved too much of the nitty-gritty details of day-to-day worries,” said Provost Mark Schlissel P’15.

Kertzer called Tisch’s wide interest in supporting the sciences, humanities and social sciences at the University a unique strength. “It’s somewhat unusual for someone in his position to so strongly and clearly support so many different ventures,” Kertzer said.

“(Tisch) is a big believer in connective tissue among people, be they alums, trustees, faculty or students — that’s something very special he brings to the Corporation,” said Vice Chancellor Jerome Vascellaro ’74 P’07, who has also been elected to a third and final three-year term. “It’s a rare and extraordinary gift.”


Coming in threes

“(Tisch) has great ambitions for the University,” Kertzer said. “He realizes that changes need to take place now that we are operating on a global canvas. He has been far-sighted without jumping on various bandwagons like establishing campuses overseas.”

Tisch continues to play an important role in the execution of Paxson’s strategic planning process, Schlissel said. As chancellor, Tisch will also lead the process of consideration and approval of the recommendations submitted by the strategic planning committees to the Corporation in May.

While Tisch and his predecessor Robert each served three terms as chancellor, no other chancellor in recent history at the University served for that long, Kertzer said.


Valuing collaboration

Tisch said his past six years as chancellor have been “extraordinarily satisfying.”

When Tisch became chancellor in 2007, he encountered a largely unexpected economic crash, Kertzer said. “One of (Tisch’s) major accomplishments was to help ensure that the University rode out and found a way to weather the economic storm without having its qualities suffer at all, which is in itself an accomplishment,” he said.

Five buildings were on the drawing board for construction when the financial crisis hit, but after reconceiving the plans for three of the buildings, the University was still able to build all five structures, Tisch said.

“Looking back, I marvel at what we were able to do,” Tisch said. In the midst of the financial crisis, Tisch said, “we didn’t lose our pace, and we didn’t lose our step.”

“Historically, when the most heavily endowed schools have caught colds, other schools that are not as wealthy have caught pneumonia,” Tisch said. “Happily, in this cycle, we don’t have pneumonia.”

Projects the University undertakes “in departments and programs can have a bigger multiplier effect with smaller dollars, which is a reflection of our history, size and instinct for interdisciplinary work,” Tisch said. Many universities strive for this interdisciplinary focus, he said, but it is already salient at Brown because of the history of the Open Curriculum.

Kertzer said there was also effective collaboration between Tisch and former president Ruth Simmons, which he said helped shape a balance between research and teaching undergraduates.

The chair of the committee responsible for choosing Paxson, Tisch said he “was very proud of the fact that the search was both open and collaborative. It was enormously satisfying to accomplish that work with a 29-person committee.” Schlissel and Kertzer praised Tisch’s role in the selection process.

“On a personal note, (Tisch) has been so valuable during my transition, providing guidance on Brown’s distinctive culture and facilitating introductions to numerous people who are important to Brown,” Paxson wrote in an email to The Herald.

Tisch said he looks forward to Brown being an important part of his life beyond his term as chancellor but does not know what shape that will take.


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