A New Breed of Ivy Presidents


On the same day in 1980 that Vartan Gregorian heard on his car radio that he had not been chosen president of the University of Pennsylvania, he resigned as provost of the institution. Some speculate that he was passed over for the job because he was a history professor with few proven administrative skills, particularly in the area of fundraising.

But Gregorian, who last month was tapped as the new president of Brown University, went on that year to take over the failing New York Public Library. Through skillful publicity efforts and the force of his own personality, he raised the library's endowment from $94 million to $150 million in seven years. In his biggest coup, he attracted a $10 million grant--the largest in the library's history.

But as Gregorian prepares to take the top post at Brown in April, he is rarely referred to as a fundraiser. Instead those who chose him and those who work with him note that he is warm and affable, an Armenian, Beiruteducated scholar passionately interested in Middle Eastern history. To fellow scholars he is known as the man who speaks seven languages and who at the age of 54 has received national teaching awards in three countries.

Gregorian is the third new Ivy League president named in less than two years. Educators and administrators throughout the Ivies say these new leaders at Brown, Dartmouth and Princeton all share similar attributes which differentiate them from the last generation of Ivy League presidents.

These educators say that the new presidents possess not only the administrative abilities that have become a prerequisite for the job in the last two decades, but also a capacity to symbolize the academic ideal.


In response to the campus disturbances of the late 1960s, Ivy educators say search committees began to place a premium on crisis management. The result was that law school deans and those with strong administrative backgrounds and keen negotiating skills fast became the presidential ideal.

President Bok, who is the dean of the Ivy League presidents, perhaps best exemplifies this crisis-manager ideal. With a background in labor law, and a cool and calm demeaner, Bok was called in to restore peace to a campus torn apart in the late 1960s.

That type of president stood in stark contrast with the style of the presidents who came before who were chosen largely to fulfill "the symbolic and ritualistic qualities of the presidency," former president of the University of Pennsylvania Martin Meyerson says.

Bok sees in the selection of the new presidents the continued importance schools place on administrative qualities. "When I look at these men, the striking similarity is that none of them were chosen from individual faculty members," Bok says. "They were all people who had substantial administrative experience at other institutions."

But other educators see in the recent selections at Brown, Dartmouth and Princeton a synthesis of the last century's two main types of Ivy League presidents.

"There are now some presidents who bridge the gap between the worlds of traditional academic values and the policy issues that are increasingly crucial for a university's survival," says Jack H. Shuster, education and public policy professor at Claremont Graduate School and a self-described "president-watcher." He says that this new breed can be called "scholar-practitioners," neither the traditional denizens of the academic world nor the mediators of the legal profession.

"This is a stabler, less social reformist time," says Theodore R. Sizer, director of Brown University's Coalition of Essential Schools. "We don't have labor lawyers appointed as presidents. When Derek Bok took over a very tense campus, it was very different than Brown in 1988."

Brown's New Leader

And the new leader of Brown is very different from a labor lawyer. Gregorian left Iran in 1956 and received his bachelor's degree and Ph.D. from Stanford University, where he at one point shaved his head in order to curtail his social life and force himself to study harder.

After teaching history throughout the country, Gregorian landed at the University of Pennsylvania in 1972. He was extremely well-liked by students and colleagues alike, according to newly-appointed Dartmouth President James O. Freedman '57, who was dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School at the time. In his position as the first dean of the school's Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Gregorian was known for his work in faculty recruitment and minority placement.