July will mark a decade of President Christina Paxson P’19’s leadership on campus. Paxson was selected as the University’s 19th president in March 2012 and succeeded Ruth Simmons, who served in the role from 2001 to 2012.
An economist and public health expert, Paxson is a graduate of Swarthmore College and Columbia, where she earned graduate degrees in economics. At the time of her appointment, she served as dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, formerly known as the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and professor of economics and public affairs at the school.
Since 2012, Paxson has undertaken a number of projects, including Building on Distinction, the University’s 2014 strategic plan which aimed to increase student diversity through the Brown Promise — an initiative eliminating loans from financial aid packages — and to recruit scholars through increased support for faculty.
Reflecting on her decade of leadership, Paxson told The Herald that her proudest achievements were those that increased access and support for a diverse range of students. Paxson said this included when the University became need blind for veterans, developed a program for rural students and created the Undocumented, First-Generation College and Low-Income Student Center.
“At the end of the day, it's all about whether the students who are here really represent the breadth of the world,” Paxson said.
Paxson added that she believes the external “perception of Brown has changed” in the last decade of her leadership.
“When I came to Brown, there was still a conversation around: ‘Are we a university or are we a college? Do we do research or do we educate students?’ And in my mind, that's a false dichotomy,” Paxson said. “You can do great things in terms of advancing knowledge, discovering new things and involving students in those efforts.”
Looking forward, Paxson said she is “excited” about projects such as shifting to need-blind admission for international students as well as “building (Brown’s) capacity in public health, medicine and engineering.” Additionally, Paxson said she hopes to continue the University’s work on educational innovation and equity through the creation of opportunities for students to spend time studying around the world and a college access pipeline program for students in Providence Public School District.
“What I love about this job is there's always something really important and really interesting to work on,” Paxson said.
She noted that the pandemic has been one of the University’s greatest challenges in her tenure.
“The last two years feel a bit of a blur; I think we kept the University moving forward, and I'm really proud of that,” Paxson said. “The whole community made our way through it. Students, faculty and administrators — everybody had to pull together to get through that. It was hard.”
With that in mind, Paxson said her favorite thing about Brown “is the community” that came together in the past few years.
“I love the fact that people at Brown are independent thinkers and that they really do care about each other,” Paxson said. “That came through a lot in the last two years, and the faculty, staff, students and alumni have all been really incredible.”