Howard Robert Swearer (1932-1991), fifteenth president of Brown University, was born in Hutchinson, Kansas, on March 13, 1932. He attended public schools in Wichita, and graduated from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in 1954. He earned his master’s degree in political science in 1956, and his Ph.D. degree in 1960, both from Harvard. He was appointed an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow in 1959. He taught political science from 1960 to 1967 at UCLA, where he was also acting director of the Russian and East European Studies Center. He directed Peace Corps training programs for Africa and Latin America, and was program officer in the international division and program officer in charge of European and international affairs for the Ford Foundation. In 1970 he became president of Carleton College, where he led a highly successful capital campaign. He accepted the presidency of Brown in August 1976 after having withdrawn as a candidate because of responsibilities at Carleton and some months later being persuaded to reconsider. He was quietly sworn in on January 18, 1977. His formal inauguration accompanied by eleven days of festivity and speech making took place in April. He arrived as the University was recovering from a financial crisis and acknowledged, “Brown has gotten on top of its finances, and I had nothing to do with it.” He did a great deal to improve Brown’s finances as he led a five-year $158 million capital campaign to a successful conclusion with a final total of over $180 million raised. From 1978-79 to 1987 Brown had ten balanced budgets and the endowment increased from $95.4 million to $356.7 million. External support for research grew from $13.2 million to $44.3 million. During his administration, Brown went through a period of unprecedented growth in both physical plant and curricular programs. Some long deferred building projects were finally realized – the Geo-Ch em Building, the Olney-Margolies Athletic Center and the Pizzitola Sports Center, and the renovation of the John Hay Library. The medical program was enhanced by the building of the Center for Health Care Studies and the enlargement of the J. Walter Wilson Laboratory and the Bio-Medical Building. Brown’s position as a leader in computing was strengthened by the building of the Center for Information Technology and the establishment of the Institute for Research in Information and Scholarship. In 1979, Harriet Sheridan, a former colleague of Swearer as dean of the College at Carleton College, became the first woman dean of the College at Brown. Interdepartmental cooperation was encouraged by the creation of new centers, programs, and departments devoted to the study of women, alcohol addiction, world hunger, public policy, and population. Swearer advocated public service for undergraduates and was a co-founder of the Campus Compact, a national public service organization. International research was enhanced by the creation of the Institute for International Studies and agreements for academic exchange with foreign universities. When the Faculty awarded him the Susan Colver Rosenberger Medal in 1983, this event marked the first time that a current president had been so honored. The accompanying citation attested to “the abundant feeling of security you have rekindled in all of us ... the bright optimism you have produced.”
In the fall of 1984 he took a two-month leave from the University to travel in Asia, Indonesia, Australia, and Hawaii. He met with Brown alumni, discussed exchange arrangements with Keio University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and was also part of a fifteen-member Rhode Island delegation to encourage Japanese investment in the state’s biomedical and marine industries. In a survey in 1987 supported by the Exxon Education Foundation in which 485 educational leaders ranked college presidents, Swearer was considered to be among the most effective presidents in the country. In October 1987 he stunned the Brown community by announcing that he wished to resign the presidency. After taking stock of his career on the occasion of his 55th birthday, he had decided that after nearly eighteen years as a college president, eleven at Brown, it was time to move on to other interests. After leaving in December 1988, he was appointed director of Brown’s Institute for International Studies which he had helped to create. At Commencement in 1989 he and his wife, Jan Swearer, both received honorary degrees, which were awarded as a surprise in addition to the other scheduled honors of the occasion. Stricken with cancer, he moved to Thompson, Connecticut, where he died on October 19, 1991.
Swearer stated his views on the office of president early in his administration:
“If a person is successful as a university president, it’s more a reflections of the members of the university community than on the individual. The university community makes or breaks the president, rather than the other way round. I think a university president can have his or her greatest impact by bringing people together and convincing them to do what they would like to do anyway.”