Wilson School dean named Brown president
The Dean of the Wilson School since 2009, Paxson has taught at Princeton since 1986. She chaired the Department of Economics from 2008 to 2009.
Paxson said in an interview that she wasn’t actively searching for a position.
“Brown is a really great university and a very good match for me given my interests. I wasn’t looking for another position generally, but when this opportunity came my way, I couldn’t let it pass,” Paxson explained.
After Simmons, the first black president in Ivy League history, announced that she would step down, Brown formed a search committee to choose a replacement. The committee first convened in October, according to David Rattner, a junior at Brown and a member of Brown’s Campus Advisory Committee. Dean Paxson said that she informed President Tilghman about her consideration for the role at Brown last month.
Rattner said that Paxson’s academic and administrative experiences made her an ideal fit for the job.
“She was the unanimous selection, and the committee was obviously very thrilled,” he said. “There was no doubt in the end that she was the best candidate.” He added that “her tenure as dean was looked upon as a good indicator in order to lead the university.”
Paxson noted that she cherished both these academic and administrative opportunities.
“I have been at Princeton for over 25 years,” Paxson said. “It has been a wonderful institution for me and helped me do so many new and different things along the way; be a new professor, be a researcher and moving into administrative positions — all the opportunities I’ve had within one institution. It has been really special.”
Vice Dean of the Wilson School Stephen Kotkin said in an email that “the Wilson School is losing a genuinely extraordinary dean, a leader of surpassing skill, warmth and grace.”
University President Shirley Tilghman shared Kotkin’s view, calling Paxson an “extraordinarily effective dean,” noting that the school made significant progress under her leadership. She added that Paxson “brought faculty together to think creatively about the curriculum and how it would impact both undergraduate and graduate students.”
Paxson’s departure comes at a time when the Wilson School is revamping the undergraduate concentration. Last April, the Wilson School announced that the program would abandon selective admissions beginning with the Class of 2015. This past February, the Wilson School unveiled a number of curricular changes to its course of study, including new field experience and Science for Public Policy requirements.
Paxson said that she was unable to predict how the Wilson School would change with her departure.
“[It’s] very hard for me to say what direction the next dean of the Wilson School will choose to take,” Paxson said. “It’s a great school with so many strengths, and the new person will want to build it in their own way.”
Tilghman said the University will soon begin a search for Paxson’s successor as Dean of the Wilson School. While the University hopes to have found a new dean by the end of July, she explained, it will appoint an interim dean if a replacement for Paxson has not yet been chosen by then.
Paxson’s ascension to the presidency at Brown maintains the total number of female presidents in the Ivy League. Four of the eight schools in the Ivy League — Brown, Princeton, Harvard and Penn — will continue to have female leaders. Tilghman said that this consistency is a “sign of changing times.”
“Academia is an area where women have made significant progress, compared to other fields, and I hope this to continue,” she said.
Paxson will also replace Simmons as the third Ivy League president — besides Tilghman — who formerly served in a senior leadership capacity at Princeton. Penn President Amy Gutmann served as the University’s provost between 2001 and 2004. Simmons herself held many roles at Princeton, including vice provost from 1992 and 1995.
Nelson Chiu ’07, who had Paxson as his thesis adviser, called her an “invaluable resource” and a “fantastic adviser,” noting that she was incredibly accessible. As a student interested in global health policy, Chiu said that he thought Paxson would be remembered for founding the Center for Health and Wellbeing, a unit within the Wilson School founded in 2000.
Paxson also established the Julis-Rabinowitz Center for Public Policy and Finance in 2011.
Staff writer Carla Javier contributed reporting.
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