An Interview with Barry Brown, Mount Ida College’s New President

July 23, 2012-


Newton, MA — Barry Brown is Mount Ida College’s eighth President and began his tenure July 1, 2012. He was unanimously selected by the College’s Board of Trustees in February 2012 after a year-long search. Prior to his appointment, from 2008 until his move to Mount Ida, he served as Provost of Suffolk University and assumed the combined role of Acting President and Provost in 2010. The Suffolk University appointments followed a distinguished career of teaching and scholarly publication spanning over 35 years. In addition to his academic positions, Professor Brown undertook positions in both the public and private sectors, including the post of Assistant Bar Counsel for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and Senior Counsel at the national firm Holland & Knight. Brown is widely published on topics ranging from biomedical law to real estate and condominium law. He holds an A.B. from Harvard College, and Ed.M. from Harvard School of Education and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. In a recent interview, President Brown expressed his excitement at joining the Mount Ida community and shared his thoughts on higher education and why Mount Ida has what it takes to be one of America’s best small colleges. After a career spanning 35 years at Suffolk University in leadership and academic roles and a career as an accomplished lawyer in private practice for a national firm, why pursue the presidency at Mount Ida College now?

Brown: There are times in each of our lives when things fall into place and good choices become apparent and easy to make. I urged the Trustees at Suffolk University to find a President from outside the school to be a change agent for that university. I did not apply for the Suffolk presidency and thought about returning to teaching law when a Mount Ida Trustee made me aware of the possibility of application to the College as its president.

Both Newton and Mount Ida have been part of my life. I was born and, with the exception of time in the Army, I have lived here all my life; my wife Ellen also grew up in Newton, as did our children. Ellen graduated from Newton North and I from Newton South High School. We know the community, understand its municipal government and have many friends and colleagues throughout the city.

Most importantly, I was excited by the opportunity to become involved with the growth of Mount Ida. Many aspects of the College resonated with me, beginning with its students and dedicated faculty. The College brings opportunity to students of promise from a wide range of populations who deserve a chance at succeeding in college and for whom a college education will make a difference in their families, communities and their own lives: first generation college students, minorities, young women and men of great potential from non-traditional backgrounds. This is an extraordinary community of young learners of which I wanted to be a part.

It also became clear to me that the success of this unique student population was achieved through the efforts of a committed and nurturing faculty that works closely with students – one on one – to support their growth and success. It could not be otherwise in order to achieve the statistics I have seen this year where 86 per cent of our graduating students find jobs in their fields of choice within 11 months of graduation. Few if any colleges can match that enviable record and the faculty should be extraordinarily proud of that achievement.

The more I learned, I knew that I wanted to be involved with Mount Ida. What makes Mount Ida College different compared to other institutions of higher education?

Brown: The past five years have been a time of extraordinary challenges for American colleges and universities. Resources are scarce and the traditional models for higher education are being questioned and are extremely fragile. The benefits of a small and supportive campus are the cornerstone of American higher education, but sadly are becoming harder to find for students of promise as economics force movement to larger universities, including for profit and public alternatives.

There is a great need to support and help a small campus school like Mount Ida grow and thrive. It is a classic New England college with a close, interactive faculty that provides a distinct alternative to large community colleges and state colleges. Public education is mass produced education, while private education can focus on the individual to build expertise, confidence and competence. As an educator, for me, the classic model for higher education is the liberal arts critical thinking model. The original nineteenth century form of this pedagogy was designed for children of the wealthy who did not have to worry about where they were going to work after graduating from college. The liberal arts model provides a wonderful education, which develops critical thinking and the exploration of different subjects from English and Science to foreign languages to philosophy. Through this interdisciplinary approach to learning, the student develops confidence in their own explicative abilities. What the liberal arts model fails to do is give students access to professional jobs.

Where Mount Ida has excelled is the integration of a classic liberal arts education with the ability to direct students toward careers after college and a lifetime of professional advancement. Many colleges disregard their obligation to provide the opportunity for gainful employment to their graduates as an important goal. At Mount Ida, on the other hand, young men and women receive a solid core education and the opportunity for meaningful careers. I truly believe that Mount Ida can serve as a national model of integrated liberal arts and career based education.

As President, I am dedicated to raising the College’s visibility and improving its facilities toward that goal. Improving facilities and raising the visibility of the College sound great, but how do you plan to do that in the midst of what continues to be a very challenging economic climate for colleges, college students and their families?

Brown: I have a grave concern about the amount of student and family debt that has become a part of going to college in America. It is something that needs to be addressed in these difficult times. Mount Ida College has managed to contain its costs of tuition and pricing better than most institutions.
As President, my goal is to attract other resources to support students in addition to private and government supported loans. For example, at Mount Ida, our academic programs, such as animal science, fashion, criminal justice, dental hygiene, game art and animation and funeral management, to name just a few, are well defined and translate into jobs for our students after graduation. I believe the combination of the programmatic success of the institution and our student population will have a strong appeal to private sources of funding, including businesses and corporations who historically have been reticent to give.

We must also increase the College’s endowment. First, we will undertake an in-depth study of alumni and friends, improving our database going back generations to call back to the campus those with whom we have lost contact over recent years, but have achieved success and will be impressed by the mission of the school and the achievements of our students. Building a strong alumni base takes time, but we must begin that process now.

We also need to address the physical needs of our campus. Using the experience that I have gained in financing and construction, I will do everything I can to give the students, faculty and staff the campus they deserve. I applaud the trustees and the community for the new artificial turf field, which will be unveiled on August 31, 2012 at the Mustangs’ first football game of the season. The new field is a symbol of growth of the future. As president, part of my job is to improve facilities by renovating and building new ones, including a student center, a library and technology center and residence halls. As a life-long resident of Newton, what role do you think Mount Ida should play in the community?

Brown: In the short time I have had to meet and get to know our students, faculty and staff, I have become convinced that the remarkable level of energy, intellect and compassion present in our community needs to be shown to our neighbors in Newton and in Greater Boston. We need to move outside of our campus, to place our students in the halls of city government, private businesses and social services so that they can demonstrate their skill and competencies. Our faculty needs to be regularly showcased in the press and electronic media – at conferences and interviewed in their areas of expertise. I will work to make both of these initiatives occur so that we become more visible and prominent.

There is no doubt in my mind that Mount Ida needs to build a stronger relationship with Newton and our surrounding communities. I am pleased to say that I have already met with the Mayor to discuss the real role we can play in the community that would benefit both students and residents. We will have an increasing number of internships with the City and its agencies. For our students, a stronger relationship with Newton will allow them opportunities to gain expertise, build their resumes, access a wide professional network and introduce them to future job opportunities. And for Newton residents, and those in other nearby communities, we want to open our campus as many colleges do, to showcase our learning, our athletics, our arts and sciences, business and humanities programs. In this way, expand the range of our accomplishments and support.

We have much of which to be proud and much to offer. I will work hard with the entire community to achieve these goals.