The President of Brown University is in charge of the immediate government of the University and reports to the Corporation. He is a member of the Board of Fellows, as prescribed by the Charter of 1764, which listed the names of the “the present Fellows and Fellowship to whom the President when hereafter elected who shall forever be of the Denomination called Baptist or Antepedo Baptist – the words in italics are an interlineation – shall be joined to compleat the Number.” The sixteen presidents have been:
James Manning from 1765 to 1791,
Jonathan Maxcy from 1792 to 1802,
Asa Messer from 1802 to 1826,
Francis Wayland from 1827 to 1855,
Barnas Sears from 1855 to 1867, Alexis Caswell from 1868 to 1872,
Ezekiel Gilman Robinson from 1872 to 1889
Elisha Benjamin Andrews from 1889 to 1898
William Herbert Perry Faunce from 1899 to 1929
Clarence Augustus Barbour from 1929 to 1937
Henry Merritt Wriston from 1937 to 1955
Barnaby Conrad Keeney from 1955 to 1966
Ray Lorenzo Heffner from 1966 to 1969
Donald Frederick Hornig from 1970 to 1976,
Howard Robert Swearer from 1977 to 1988
Vartan Gregorian from 1989 to 1997
E. Gordon Gee, 1998-2000.
The Charter required that the president be a Baptist, and the first ten presidents were Baptist ministers. James Manning, who had been instrumental in the founding of the college was elected president in 1765, at the age of 26 and only three years out of New Jersey College (Princeton). He was president for 26 years, and after his unexpected death on July 29, 1791, the Corporation requested that David Howell write to the Reverend Samuel Jones to offer him the presidency. In his reply, dated August 15, 1791, Jones says, “The appointment would be so far above my abilities and other qualifications; it would be so unsuitable for a man so far advanced in years (fifty-six) to enter upon a new scene in life ... I would lay before the Corporation the names of the Hon. David Howell, and the Rev. Jonathan Maxcy, both of Providence. Should it be decided that the clause in the charter respecting a President militates against the one, and want of years against the other, (for a man may be too young as well as too old,) I would then suggest the expediency of casting an eye over the Atlantic.” Jonathan Maxcy 1787 did become president in 1792, although he was called president pro tem for the first five years, as he was only 24 at the time of his election. He left in 1802 to become president of Union College and was succeeded by another graduate of the College, Asa Messer 1790. Messer had been a tutor and then a professor, but he also was president pro tem until 1804. He resigned in 1826 because his theological differences with the Corporation had led to dissension in the College. Francis Wayland, educated at Union College and the first non-graduate of Brown since Manning, began his presidency of 28 years in 1827. He offered his resignation in 1849 when his proposed curricular reforms had not been supported, but withdrew his resignation when his “new system” was accepted. He retired in 1855.
The next six presidents were all graduates of Brown. Barnas Sears 1825 was the first to have been president of another educational institution (Newton Theological Institution) before becoming president of Brown. When Sears resigned, the presidency was offered to Martin B. Anderson and to Ezekiel Gilman Robinson, both of whom declined. Professor Alexis Caswell 1822 was called out of retirement to become president in 1868. Ezekiel Gilman Robinson 1838, who had earlier declined, was persuaded to accept the presidency in 1872. He had been president of Rochester Theological Seminary. Elisha Benjamin Andrews 1870 was president of Denison University from 1875 to 1879 and professor at the Newton Theological Institution, Brown, and Cornell before becoming president. He resigned in 1897 in a controversy over the right of the Corporation to limit the free expression of his personal views on the free coinage of silver. Asked to withdraw his resignation, he did so, but left a year later. William Herbert Perry Faunce 1880, who served the longest presidential term from 1899 to 1929, differed from all the former presidents since Manning in that he had not engaged in college teaching except for freshman mathematics during the absence of Professor Benjamin F. Clarke 1863 in 1881-82. The requirement that the president be a Baptist was removed in 1926. Clarence Barbour 1888, elected in 1929, was the last president who was a Baptist minister and a graduate of Brown. He was succeeded in 1937 by Henry Merritt Wriston, who was a Methodist, a graduate of Wesleyan University, and former president of Lawrence College. His eighteen years as president were marked by the building of the residential quadrangle which bears his name, and the subsequent growth of the student body in size and geographical distribution. Barnaby C. Keeney, a graduate of the University of North Carolina and a member of the Brown faculty who had served as Dean of the Graduate School and Dean of the College, became president in 1955. Deciding that ten years was the most effective term for a college president, he resigned in 1966, after another period of expansion of the University. Ray L. Heffner, a graduate of Yale, assumed the presidency in 1966, did not enjoy it, and resigned less then three years later. Donald Hornig, who was a graduate of Harvard and a former professor of chemistry at Brown, was president during the troubled years from 1970 to 1976. Howard Swearer, a graduate of Yale and former president of Carleton College, became president in 1977. His administration was marked by the financial recovery of the University and its growth in physical plant and curricular resources. In 1989 Vartan Gregorian, the first foreign-born president of Brown, a native of Lebanon and a graduate of Stanford University, was inaugurated.
On occasion the role of the president was filled by another. David Howell was acting president in 1791-92, after the death of James Manning. Alva Woods was acting president in 1826-27, after the resignation of Asa Messer. Alexis Caswell served as president pro tempore in 1840-41 during Francis Wayland’s trip to Europe. George Ide Chace was acting president in 1867-68, after the resignation of Barnas Sears. Professor Benjamin Franklin Clarke was acting president three times, in the fall of 1892 while Andrews was a delegate to the International Monetary Conference, in 1896-97 while Andrews was in Europe, and in 1898-99 between the presidencies of Andrews and Faunce. Professor Walter Goodnow Everett served as acting president during President Faunce’s trip to Egypt and Asia in 1912-13. Albert Davis Mead was acting president during President Barbour’s trip to the Far East in 1931-32. James P. Adams was president pro tempore and ad interim in 1936-37, during the illness and after the death of President Barbour. Merton Stoltz was acting president three times, in 1969-70 between the presidencies of Heffner and Hornig, in the summer of 1972 while President Hornig recovered from a heart attack, and in 1976 between the presidencies of Hornig and Swearer.
Over the years the inauguration of the president grew from a simple rite to an elegant celebration. In fact there seems to have been no public installation of the first five presidents. President Sears was presented at Commencement on September 5, 1855, when Chancellor Samuel B. Tobey presented resolutions of the retirement of President Wayland and announced the election of Sears.
President Caswell’s inauguration was described in the Providence Journal of February 18, 1868:
“The Reverend Alexis Caswell, D.D., LL.D., was yesterday morning, in accordance with established usage, inducted into the office ... The ceremony, which was of an extremely impressive though simple character, took place in Manning Hall immediately before the usual morning service. Besides the Faculty and students, several prominent members of the Corporation were present.”The Chancellor made an appropriate address. Caswell “made a felicitous response,” and “At the close of the addresses the usual devotional services were proceeded with, closing with singing and a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer by the students.”
President Robinson was inaugurated on September 9, 1872 at the beginning of the college year. He was, as President Caswell had been, presented at chapel exercises, which were reported thus in the Providence Journal:
“Arrangement having been made by a committee appointed for the purpose at the recent meeting of the Corporation of Brown University, to have some proper service in connection with the assumption of his official duties by Dr. Robinson as President of the University, Manning Hall was filled Monday morning with members of the Corporation, the Faculty and students of the College, who met to participate in this service. On the entrance of President Robinson with Chancellor Patten, he was received with such applause as only students know how to give, the whole audience rising to their feet.”William Patten’s charge to the new president had a particularly nautical eloquence:
“To-day you take a new departure. You embark on a staunch ship. The vessel is not new to you, nor the seas unknown. In former years, you were a hand on one of her periodical voyages. You are now her chosen Commander and Pilot. You have a gallant ship’s company – the Faculty are all your officers, the Students your crew, and we and they all are sharers in the results of her voyages. May each return find her freighted with treasures of every age and clime; always so fortunate and prospered that, to have sailed in her shall assure riches and a distinction throughout the land.”
The inauguration of President Andrews took place at the first chapel service of the academic year at 8:30 A.M. on Wednesday, September 18, 1889. The Providence Journal reported, “It had been announced this morning that in addition to the regular service there would be a formal introduction of President Andrews by Hon. Thomas Durfee, LL.D., of the Board of Fellows. The announcement was significant enough to draw nearly every student into the hall, and the Professors who were in the city, and a large number of Alumni also made their appearance.” Ex-Chancellor Durfee performed the induction in place of Samuel L. Caldwell, Secretary of the Corporation, who was prevented by illness, and Chancellor William Goddard, who was unable to replace him, being on the way home from Europe. Durfee’s speech of introduction was interrupted each time he mentioned Andrews, as the students applauded their former teacher who was returning as president.
On the occasion of President Faunce’s inauguration five divisions made up the procession to the First Baptist Church on the afternoon of October 17, 1899. Chancellor Goddard, President Eliot of Harvard, President Patton of Princeton, President Harper of Chicago, and Faunce all spoke. Reeves’s orchestra, augmented to thirty pieces, played, and the Glee Club sang. In the evening there was a reception in Sayles Hall.
President Barbour was inducted by Chancellor Arnold Buffum Chace on Friday, October 18, 1929, in the First Baptist Church. Presidents A. Lawrence Lowell of Harvard and Livingston Farrand of Cornell were the speakers for the 130 delegates from colleges and universities, 64 of whom were the presidents of their institutions. At the time of Wriston’s inauguration in 1937, J. Earl Clauson, describing the inauguration of Barbour in 1929, wrote in the Providence Journal, “The inauguration ... came closer to bursting Brown’s cocoon of New England reticence than anything which had preceded it. That event was spread over three days, with recitations more or less suspended, colors flying and a general air of release from inhibitions.” There were receptions in Sayles Hall on October 16 and 17, a reception at Pembroke on the morning of the inauguration, and a dinner at the Biltmore following the ceremony.
At President’s Wriston’s request, his installation was relatively simple. There were 900 invited guests, who marched to Sayles Hall for the ceremony at 4:00 o’clock on Wednesday, February 3, 1937. Students in their dormitories were able to hear the ceremonies broadcast by the Brown Network, and the general public listened in Faunce House.
President Keeney’s inauguration on Monday, October 31, 1955, was attended by 25 college presidents and 83 delegates from colleges and universities, among them Robert M. Keeney, who attended his son’s inauguration as alumnus and delegate of the Colorado School of Mines. John Nicholas Brown, the senior member present of the Board of Fellows, administered the oath of engagement at noon in Sayles Hall. The principal speaker was John W. Gardner, president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, who spoke on “American Higher Education.” As a salute to Keeney’s interest in medieval history, the combined choirs of Brown and Pembroke sang the medieval anthem, “Veni Creator Spiritus.”
President Heffner’s inauguration was held on Saturday morning, October 15, 1966, in Meehan auditorium. On the evening before the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra presented a special concert in honor of the new president in Veterans Memorial Auditorium. At the inaugural exercises an address was delivered by Dr. Herman B. Wells, Chancellor of Indiana University, who was president of that institution when Heffner joined its faculty.
President Hornig was inaugurated on Sunday, October 4, 1970. Earlier in the day he had attended morning worship in Sayles Hall, where President George A. Owens of Tougaloo College spoke. The other members of his party left the service in a limousine, while Hornig chose to walk across the campus to the luncheon prepared for delegates and guests. The inaugural procession formed on the Pembroke Campus and marched to Meehan Auditorium, where 3,500 persons, including the delegates of 81 colleges and universities, attended the ceremony of inauguration.
President Swearer was reluctant to have an elaborate inauguration, but was persuaded that this was a necessary rite. For eleven days the University celebrated, managing to schedule other events such as Parents Weekend and a conference on the novel to augment the inaugural festivities. The three-day conference on the novel, intended to mark the tenth anniversary of the literary journal, Novel, featured novelists John Gardner and Gail Godwin. On the day before the inauguration there was a panel discussion on “The Role of Values in Communal Living,” an essay by Dean Thomas Bechtel, and an evening concert by the Brown Chorus. On the day of inauguration, Saturday, April 16, 1977, Harvard president Derek Bok spoke in Sayles Hall in the morning on “Liberal Education and Values for the Twenty-first Century.” There followed a panel discussion of his address in which University of Rhode Island President Frank Newman ’47, Tougaloo College President George Owens, and Acting President Harriet Sheridan of Carleton College participated. Meanwhile, in Carmichael Auditorium a panel discussion on “Clinical Medicine in the Year 2000” was being held. In the afternoon the inauguration ceremony took place in Meehan Auditorium. At the conclusion of the inauguration exercises an honorary degree was awarded to Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who performed that evening with the Brown University Orchestra before a crowd of 4,700 in Meehan Auditorium. On the afternoon following the inauguration, Archibald MacLeish read from his poems and shared anecdotes with his audience in Alumnae Hall in a performance dedicated to the memory of Mark Donahue ’59, a loyal alumnus who became a race car driver and died in a crash in Austria in 1975. There were three concerts on Sunday, one by music professor David Laurent, one by the Brown University Black Chorus, and a performance of the Brown University Sunday evening concert series. Scheduled during the week following the inauguration were the Meiklejohn lecture by Kingman Brewster, president of Yale, the Peter B. Kirby memorial lecture by Georgia state legislator Julian Bond, the Stephen A. Ogden, Jr. lecture by undersecretary of state Lucy Wilson Benson, and a symposium, “Image and Reality, “ which explored how blacks are perceived by others.
President Gregorian was inaugurated on Sunday afternoon, April 9, 1989, at a ceremony preceded by three days of inaugural events and his 55th birthday on April 8. The celebration began with the annual World Hunger Awards ceremony on Thursday night. An inaugural ball organized by the students was held on Friday night. On Saturday Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. delivered the inaugural address, and in the evening actress Claire Bloom read from Virginia Woolf and Eliot’s “The Wasteland,” and Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee read from their own work and from poets Langston Hughes and Bob Kaufman. On Sunday Gregorian attended a special worship service at the Baptist Church before the official inauguration in Meehan Auditorium in the afternoon. Violinist Pinchas Zukerman performed with and conducted the Brown University Orchestra at the inaugural concert on Sunday evening.