This week in The Herald: Shaping the presidency

This week, as the campus prepares for the upcoming inauguration of President Christina Paxson, The Herald is publishing a three-part series, “Shaping the Presidency,” examining the role of the presidency through almost 250 years and 18 previous presidential tenures. These stories take a look at the evolution of the University’s top leadership post and the mantle Paxson has inherited.

As leadership transitions to the Paxson administration and focus shifts to the programs she will put forth, questions regarding the role of a modern-day University president gain salience. What started as supervision of the day-to-day facets of the workings of the school has transitioned to a position of great power in fundraising, framing the direction of the University’s vision, and impacting higher education at as a whole.

Former president Ruth Simmons raised more than $1.5 billion as part of the Campaign for Academic Enrichment — the principal fundraising initiative of her tenure. As Paxson steps into her role, she has suggested expanding financial aid as a key future priority. She also recently convened six committees to determine which initiatives will define the course of her tenure. These groups will bring conclusions to senior administrators at the close of this semester, and their recommendations will likely define what Paxson chooses to emphasize over her presidency.

This series attempts to answer the question of what makes a presidency. Yesterday’s story looked inward at the history and evolution of the University’s top leadership role. Today’s story looks outward at the collaboration between presidents, highlighting the differences and similarities between the role across institutions. Tomorrow’s story looks forward at the specific aspects of the transitional period between leaders and how that context can shape a president’s agenda. Together, we hope these stories can provide a cohesive understanding of what the presidency means and what a new president means for Brown.

As Paxson is formally inaugurated this weekend, members of the Brown community have a chance to reflect not only on where the University comes from, but also on how that heritage could influence our future. We hope the subjects addressed in these stories help inform that reflection and subsequent discussion it may provoke.

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