The Outlook’s Editor-In-Chief Brett Bodner spoke with soon-to-be MU President Dr. Paul R. Brown on Monday, March 18.
The Outlook:What drew you to Monmouth?
Dr. Brown:A whole slew of things, I would say. Probably most generally, the comprehensive nature of Monmouth, meaning a full plate of graduate and undergraduate programs and majors. That’s really powerful on both the graduate and undergraduate level, particularly some of the fields of relevance, which hit me really quickly. Of course the great facilities, I mean of course there’s always room for improvement, but there are really wonderful facilities. The school has a really nice location and dimension, as it is located by the shore. I also believe having Division I sports is great. There are similarities in that regard to Lehigh, in fact Monmouth actually plays Lehigh in competitive games like football. Those are probably the strongest reasons and I also can’t help but notice the leadership President Gaffney brought to the University and he has served the University so fine. It is a wonderful place to build from.
The Outlook:What are some of Monmouth’s strengths?
Dr. Brown:I absolutely believe the plate of programs (different majors and choices) on both the undergraduate and graduate level is a huge strength. Not a lot of schools can do that with the midsize of Monmouth. A key feature of Monmouth is the fact that it is a private university, not so small but not so large where you can find your niche. I also find the student body of the University to be a strength. I have a very strong, positive gut feeling about the student body at Monmouth. I do bench mark, obviously I’d be bench marking with Lehigh after I’ve been here six years. It seems like a very vibrant student body, who is engaged and hands-on participatory. A graduate would be different from undergraduate in different ways and extremely involved. I felt that when I was there and it speaks very well to Monmouth. Particularly given, the commitment students have made, the size of the University is such that students can be involved as much or as little as they want. They can find their place to get involved with clubs, Greeks, sports, so many. I see all of those as strong characteristics of Monmouth and honestly what increasingly attracted me to the University.
The Outlook:What are some of the weaknesses of Monmouth?
Dr. Brown:Looking at the undergraduate population, this is just me from my first impression, the undergraduate population is strong, but I would love to have it even more diverse. As you know, it is very centric in terms of New Jersey as well as the northeast which is great. I know the University has been working at this, but I would like to see a more diverse undergraduate population. Diverse in terms of geographical, different backgrounds, international. I don’t know if it’s a weakness but it would definitely benefit Monmouth if it had a broader student body. The immediate advantage is broader reputation, broader name recognition in addition to students being able to work with students from all over the U.S. and the world which leads to more visibility which helps everybody in terms of reputation and recognition. I see a curricula that could benefit from having a more global touch to it, like more of a broad based global awareness instilled in many programs. If they’re weaknesses, they’re opportunities as well and I definitely turned weaknesses around in terms of opportunities and I’ve had the luxury, during the course of being there, to talking to a lot of colleagues about these issues (Gaffney, entire leadership team), tremendous amount more bench marking to seeing what opportunities are out there.
The Outlook:Biggest challenge to taking over as President?
Dr. Brown:The biggest challenge for me will be learning all the good people that you need to know. These positions are all about people, which is great. It’s the combination of loving higher education, which is about serving society and educating colleagues and you do all that in the context of people. So my challenge will be getting to know the Monmouth community at large, like students, faculty, alumni, trustees, and people in the community at large. The students are the heartbeat of the Monmouth community and getting to know what’s on their minds is important. My big challenge, particularly when you have such a strong visible leadership role like President, will be to work my way through these relationships and hopefully make a mark as to what we want to do next.
The Outlook:I understand you have a very strong business background. From a business standpoint what’s going on here at Monmouth?
Dr. Brown:As a University, Monmouth is a fiscally-sound University. The physical plan overall is superb. There are areas where we want to improve, but overall strong with minimal deferred maintenance. What this means is what you worry about in terms of universities is that they have made a huge commitment to physical plan. It has to be maintained, has to be relevant, has to be state of the art and be vigilant about that. At Monmouth, this maintenance is minimal, which is a wonderful component. It also points to leadership. I can’t say more how fortunate the University is with its vice presidents who have been committed to the school for decades. President Gaffney has given ten great years and the trustees have been excellent. There are also students who have led clubs for years and for students to quickly take a leadership role is not trivial. There is also a strong array of programs that Monmouth offers. You need a full range of programs and they must be relevant. Monmouth has really worked at that for the last couple of decades and my business perspective brings that to the table.
The Outlook:When all is said and done, what do you want your legacy to be?
Dr. Brown:This is a capstone activity in my career and this is what I want to do. Presidents are stewards of universities and you need to be a solid one, who maintains a healthy and vibrant and safe environment. You educate ethical leaders and you do all the things that matter because the school’s students are going to make a difference in the future and in society. Legacy sounds a little like maintain what’s strong and do it in an ethical way that generates leaders. The legacy you’d love is to become a stronger university and a leader, where other universities and policy makers look to your faculty as the thought leader which leads to greater visibility. I do believe Monmouth is poised to establish greater and greater visibility. I would be pleased to collectively make a mark in any of these areas.
The Outlook:If you had to add one thing tomorrow, it would be…
Dr. Brown:I’d add additional space, particularly off-campus. As I’ve experienced and everybody in the Monmouth community experiences, it’s an incredible campus but it’s a constrained campus. With additional space, and I know some has been taken in Monmouth Corporate park for graduate programs. More space allows for the main campus to grow for additional undergraduate activities, events and new venues. There are some similarities between Monmouth and Lehigh, one that’s not similar is that Monmouth has a huge amount of space. The space issue is not trivial because it allows you to do more when you go off-campus and not far like the corporate park offices and off-campus housing along the shore. Monmouth is sitting in a really wonderful community, but as we know it’s not easy to change anything immediately.
The Outlook:If you could eliminate one thing from Monmouth what would be?
Dr. Brown:I don’t have any gut reactions. I’m sure there are some things that are superfluous or that could be better used in other places like resources, but nothing in particular hits me at this moment.
The Outlook:What are your thoughts on student journalists asking tough questions?
Dr. Brown:(Laughs). We have the equivalent to The Outlook at Lehigh called The Brown and White, which is also student-run. It’s (tough questions) absolutely what you need to do. What I mean by that is the transparency what we’re trying to do and by we I mean the collective we. Not just faculty, not just leaders, and not just students, but we. I’m very influenced by transparency so I don’t believe there can be too many tough questions. Of course I’m sensitive to when it’s right to discuss things, privacy issues, staging of issues, personnel issues are always sensitive, but no, I would hope this would be the start of a long relationship with you or whoever follows you. In my time here, I’ve interacted extensively with the reporters of The Brown and White.