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President takes Brown off campus

Paxson P’19 balances commitments, travel between students, parents, alums, donors

When President Christina Paxson P’19 isn’t on campus, she could be anywhere between New York City and Hong Kong. Between July 2014 and June 2015 she traveled to 16 different cities, spending a total of 71 days on the road.

“Travel is important because the Brown community is much larger than simply the faculty and students and staff who are on campus,” Paxson said. It includes alums and parents “who live all over the country and all over the world,” she added.

The president’s travel agenda includes alumni events that are open to the Brown community, speaking events and meetings with potential donors, investors, presidential advisory councils or Corporation members.

“All of this travel is about representing Brown — the best of Brown — the direction Brown is going and the progress that Brown is making to our stakeholder audiences beyond campus,” said Cass Cliatt, vice president for communications. 

“Even when (Paxson) is asked to speak as a thought leader in her area of expertise, she is recognized (as) being a person of expertise who is also the president of Brown,” Cliatt said.

Fundraising events and opportunities to represent the University are not unrelated.

Whenever she travels, “Paxson is raising the profile of Brown, which then directly and indirectly raises money for the school,” said Stephen Nelson, a senior scholar in the Leadership Alliance at Brown and a professor of educational leadership at Bridgewater State University.

“Presidents have always been expected to bring in the financial wherewithal for their institutions,” Nelson said. With this responsibility, “travel becomes almost necessitated,” he said. “It comes with the territory.”

All university presidents travel, Nelson added. For example, in the coming months Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber has trips planned to New York, Puerto Rico, San Francisco, San Diego, Nashville, Mumbai and New Delhi, according to Princeton’s Alumni Association website.

While travel plays a crucial role in university presidents’ responsibilities, they also should not be what Nelson calls “absentee landlords” — never present on campus for current students and faculty members.

In order to spend more time on campus, Paxson only travels internationally during summer, winter and spring breaks. When classes are in session, she is typically on campus Mondays, Tuesdays and one other day of the week, Paxson said.

Because time spent traveling is time spent away from campus, the president’s trips are scheduled to maximize her visits to each location.

“When the president travels, her schedule is full,” Cliatt said, adding that trips often entail multiple events and meetings that vary in nature.

When planning each trip, Paxson said she asks herself, “If it isn’t packed, what else could I do?”

A group of staff members who “receive invitations (and) notices of interest” for the president meets regularly to create her schedule, both for when she is on and off campus, Cliatt said.

This “calendar group” comprises Cliatt along with members of the Office of Advancement, Assistant to the President Kimberly Roskiewicz, the president’s special project manager and her remarks writer.

The group works to balance the president’s presence on and off campus “so she has the time to meet with students … but also can give her time to our alumni,” Cliatt said.

This fall, the president’s schedule was “not typical” because she had increased on-campus obligations in relation to preparing for the launch of BrownTogether, the University’s comprehensive campaign, Cliatt said.

But she still managed to get to cities on the West Coast, New York City and Boston, Paxson said.

Now with the campaign underway, travel is necessary for achieving the fundraising goals set forth.

“Right now, we’re planning a series of events in cities in the country and internationally to roll out the fundraising campaign,” Paxson said, adding that a spring break trip to China is currently in the planning stage.

A previous version of this article misidentified Stephen Nelson's role as an associate professor of educational leadership at Bridgewater State University. In fact, he is a professor. The Herald regrets the error.


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