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Princeton’s Paxson to lead Brown University

Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) – Princeton University economist Christina Hull Paxson, who specializes in how economic factors affect people’s health and welfare, was named the next president of Brown University on Friday.

The university said Paxson was elected to the position during a special meeting of the school’s governing body. Paxson is dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton.

Brown Chancellor Thomas J. Tisch, who led the presidential selection committee, said Paxson has the qualities needed to continue the “extraordinary progress” that the Ivy League school has made over the past decade.

“It was the combination of her skill, her experience, her temperament and her sensibility,” Tisch said at a news conference held on campus.

Paxson will assume her new position on July 1. She will become the school’s 19th president and will take over from Ruth Simmons, the first African-American to lead an Ivy League university. Simmons says she plans to finish some writing projects before returning to Brown as a faculty member.

“It is a privilege and honor to join the Brown community,” Paxson said in a statement. “I am drawn to Brown’s distinctive approach to education and scholarship, with its emphasis on intellectual independence and free inquiry.”

She added: “Under Ruth Simmons’s leadership, the university has experienced tremendous growth over the past decade. I look forward to working with the exceptional community that is Brown to continue to build this extraordinary institution.”

Paxson’s selection means she will be leaving Princeton after a 26-year career at the school, where she researched economic factors affecting the health and welfare of children. One of her recent research endeavors looked at adversity and resilience after Hurricane Katrina.

Paxson also founded the Center for Health and Wellbeing at the Woodrow Wilson School, which established graduate and undergraduate certificate programs in health and health policy. While Paxson served as dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, research and teaching opportunities related to domestic and international financial markets increased and a center focused on public policy and finance was launched.

Paxson’s own research has focused on links between health and socioeconomics in both developed and undeveloped nations. She said her interests fit well with Brown, which has a growing public health program and a new medical school building in Providence’s Knowledge District.

“I really do care about the quality of health care in America. Coming to an institution as great as Brown that also has expertise in this area … that’s a real attraction to me,” Paxson said Friday.

Providence Mayor Angel Taveras has been negotiating with Simmons over his request to increase voluntary payments the university contributes in lieu of taxes. Paxson said Simmons will continue to lead those negotiations until she steps down. She said she recognizes the financial challenges facing the state’s largest city.

“Universities and cities and regions should be partners,” she said. She also said she’s excited to work with elected officials on helping to transform Providence’s so-called Knowledge District into a hub for the life sciences.

Paxson was formally introduced to students and faculty at a campus-wide convocation Friday. Hundreds of students attended to see the successor to the popular Simmons.

“It’s going to be hard to beat Ruth Simmons,” said Steven Chizen, a sophomore in economics from San Francisco. He said he hopes Paxson proves to be as effective a fundraiser and administrator. “She seems like she will bring a lot of energy to Brown.”

Daniela Rojas, a freshman from Mission, Texas, said Simmons was one of the factors that caused her to choose Brown. But as a student focusing on human biology and expecting to attend medical school, Rojas said Paxson’s interest in public health is a big plus. “I really liked her enthusiasm,” she said.

The 52-year-old Paxson grew up in Pittsburgh. She is married to Ari Gabinet, executive vice president and general counsel at Oppenheimer Funds. The couple has two children, Nicholas, 22, and Benjamin, 14.

Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman congratulated Paxson, saying she left an “indelible mark” on the university.

“Chris has consistently shown the kind of good judgment and admirable leadership that makes her a natural choice as Brown’s president,” Tilghman said in a statement. “As sad as I am to lose her as a colleague at Princeton, it will be a great pleasure to welcome her to the Council of Ivy Presidents.”

Simmons became Brown’s president in 2001 after serving as president of Smith College in Northampton, Mass.

Under her leadership, Brown increased its faculty by 20 percent, expanded beyond its historic campus, established the Brown Institute for Brain Science and undertook a fundraising campaign that raised more than $1.6 billion.

Simmons also created a panel to investigate Brown’s historic ties to slavery and worked to expand academic ties to schools in Asia and ones closer to home, including the Rhode Island School of Design.

One controversy during Simmons’ tenure centered on Brown’s response to a 2006 rape allegation by one student against another. Former student William McCormick III later sued in federal court, saying he was falsely accused of rape and then unfairly pressured to leave the university because the accuser was the daughter of a major donor. The case was settled late last year through an agreement between McCormick and the woman’s family, resulting in the dismissal of his lawsuit against Brown.

On Friday, Simmons was treated to a standing ovation at the convocation to welcome Paxson. She blew a kiss to the crowd of students and told The Associated Press the choice of her successor is “fantastic.”

“When you’re in this job you always worry about who is coming next,” she said. “It’s exhilarating to know.”

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