An Interview with Interim President Hank Brown

by Caitlin Joyce on August 23, 2017

I always enjoyed getting to know the teachers and administration at my high school, as it helped me make the best of my academic experience and form connections that were preserved as I moved on to higher education.

I love the fact that, at Arcadia, students can make connections with all members of the community — from the friendly staff at The Chat and Dining Hall, to professors, all the way up to the President’s Office. It’s a unique experience that students at large universities may not have. Forming relationships with faculty and staff at Arcadia isn’t solely for the purpose of finding a mentor or making a network connection, but also helps us discover ways our professors and administration want to see us succeed in our academic careers and beyond.

Recently, I had the experience of interviewing Arcadia’s interim president, Hank Brown. After collecting questions and concerns from fellow Arcadia students, I met with Interim President Brown to address these inquiries as well as to get to know him better as a person. I’m thankful to have had this opportunity, as it was helpful for me to understand the details within his plans for improving the university, as well as break down barriers between the administration and student body in order to address concerns or curiosities.

Caitlin Joyce: What drew you to Arcadia University? What are you looking to build upon here?

Hank Brown: It’s fun and exciting because it’s a challenge. I loved my previous experiences with past universities, and you always look for challenges in life. The first real responsibility is to prepare the way for the new president and to address the immediate problems that the University has. I’ve long been fascinated with the tools that are available to the Board of Trustees to make the difference in the way a university runs. For example, at the University of Northern Colorado, I found that the salaries of faculty were dreadfully low. It turned out that, over the years, they significantly increased the administrative cost and cut short the academic cost. We developed some standards that laid out what the appropriate cost is for administrative functions, and provided guidelines for trustees so that, when they’re asked to pass a budget, they have guidelines to be efficient. It’s very difficult and challenging for a trustee, so hopefully we’ll come up with some guidelines to make sure Arcadia is efficient.

CJ: And I suppose your work with the U.S. House and Senate influenced your perspective on budgeting, right?

HB: Well actually, the Senate is a dreadful example of budgeting! It’s a great example of human ego, but in terms of budgeting, it’s a disaster. At the end of every fiscal year, every institution forfeits their budget. This is true except for Congress. They’re the only outlier. But working in the House and Senate helped me understand how to work in a bipartisan. You learn to listen to other people, whether or not you agree with them. This is key to getting things done, especially in higher education.

Global Education

CJ: Arcadia is ranked first in the country for study abroad participation, which is integral to the identity of the University. I read that you had worked with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. How has that influenced your opinion on integrative learning on a global scale?

HB: I think it’s huge. You don’t really understand America until you’ve visited other countries. You can read about it, but it’s nothing like experiencing it. I think it’s a real eye opener for other people to have a chance to see how other systems work.  I think the best job I’ve ever had was flying for the Navy: I was in the VR squadron and we flew all over the world. At 22, you didn’t need much rest. You could see the world. It’s something I’ve always been fascinated with, as it’s important to understand America and our influence on the world.

Safety and Security

CJ: Bringing it closer to home: In preparation for this interview, I asked fellow students what issues they would like me to mention to you. One thing that multiple students brought to my attention was the lack of security cameras in the parking lots or in the Oak Summit apartments. Overall, the students wanted to know what you have implemented to improve security on college campuses?

HB: It’s a real challenge on every campus. A few things that have positive effects are security cameras and call stations so that it’s easy to call campus security. Also, a number of campuses have a system in place where, if a student is leaving the library late at night, they can be escorted by campus security back to their dorm.

Campus Diversity

CJ: We briefly talked before about protecting minority students, specifically the LGBT community, on the Facebook announcement of your position as interim president. You had said that you “personally led a minority recruitment effort which resulted in the largest enrollment of minority students for a freshman class in history at UC” How did you accomplish this, and what are your plans for expanding diversity at Arcadia?

HB: The most important element was letting students know that we cared about them. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? We let them know that we wanted them there, and that’s an awfully big thing for someone who’s 17 years old and leaving home for the first time. The thing we did not do is come up with special financial offerings. Everyone was treated the same, regardless of racial or ethnic backgrounds or other differences. We didn’t buy students. The big difference was that they felt that they were wanted and needed on campus, and we gave them a place to feel at home.

CJ: That definitely resonates with me, and I think in this current political climate, kids who are members of the LGBT community can feel as though they’re not wanted. In a lot of ways, Arcadia represents a place that they can come home to and feel safe, regardless of their identity or orientation. It’s important to me that Arcadia is always an accepting place, regardless of one’s religion, orientation, gender identity, etc.

HB: Arcadia has a very strong policy of embracing diversity and welcoming people of diverse backgrounds. What’s important is that there are folks who are welcoming to you. It’s one thing to be allowed to go and another thing feel welcome when you’re here. And obviously for Arcadia, it’s important to do both.

Arcadia has a very strong policy of embracing diversity and welcoming people of diverse backgrounds. What’s important is that there are folks who are welcoming to you.

- Interim President Hank Brown

CJ: In order to stay true to myself and to give answers to the questions many students are wondering, I have to ask: Have your opinions on civil rights for LGBT or protecting these people from discrimination changed from your time in the U.S. House and Senate?

HB: It’s an issue that’s much more in people’s minds. I had always been one who thought that the best society has the maximum amount of individual freedom for people to choose their own lives. The point at which government has a role is when what I do harms you. It doesn’t come near me trying to dictate your life. At the time I was voting, I thought that people should be able to marry whomever they want, but I had concerns about the decisions of one state dictating to another. Some states allowed civil union, others didn’t. Some used the term “marriage,” others didn’t. That relates not so much to civil rights as it does to how the constitution interprets those laws. But I think almost everyone has changed their opinion, whether President Obama or others, in the last 20 years. It’s been good.

CJ: Conditions have definitely been improving for the lives of gay and transgender individuals. People my parent’s age could never have lived as openly at my age as I do now. So there has definitely been a positive transition, but I still think students are concerned and worried about facing discrimination either at home or at school. So do you, as interim president, stand against this type of discrimination?

HB: I do, and I think Arcadia’s policies are very clear in that there will be no discrimination here. It’s not only part of my job, but many others, to make sure that this rule is enforced.

Scholarships and Financial Aid

CJ: Has working with the Daniels Fund influenced your perspective on grants and scholarships, and how would you like to see grants and scholarships improved at Arcadia?

HB: The Daniels Fund supports about a thousand scholarships at any one time. They’re 100 percent scholarships, so people can graduate college without debt. Their scholarships are focused primarily on individuals who have had tough challenges in life, but have shown determination and want to make something out of their lives. Bill Daniels started with a very tough life, paved his own way, but never graduated from college. He served in the Navy, eventually got into cable television, and became a billionaire, then gave his money to charity. He made it a priority to help students who wouldn’t normally be able to go to college on their own. It influences the way I think about our financial aid program because it’s an integral part of making sure that young people who want to improve their lives have the opportunity to do so.  It’s one of the nicest things Arcadia or any university does.

CJ: Definitely. I know scholarships have helped not only me, but so many other students here access an education. This issue is important to me, especially with the inflation of the economy.

HB: In talking with some of our adjuncts, I found that a couple of them — women who are in their 50s — are still paying their student loans. It’s heartbreaking, and I think it’s one of the changes that need to take place in higher education. The cost of higher education has risen much more rapidly than the cost of inflation.The reality is the cost of student loan debt is higher than the overall cost of all the credit card debt in the nation. That has to come to the end.

Challenges in Higher Education

CJ: What other changes would you like to see in higher education itself?

HB: We must link what’s offered in the institution to what will help students earn a living. That’s not to say you’re taking classes which don’t have a direct impact on your job. It means that we also should help young people understand what jobs are out there and what kind of academic learning you’ll need to prepare for those.

CJ: What ways would you like to ease the transition between graduating college and entering the workforce? Taking classes and earning a degree in your major and actually finding a job are two totally different monsters to tackle.

HB: It truly is. I think universities can help by developing key internship opportunities. The other part is helping students understand what’s expected. Young people who work on campus have a leg up because they understand basic things like how to dress for work and when to show up.

CJ: Instead of issues with higher education as a whole, are there specific issues at Arcadia which you’d like to fix or improve upon?

HB: Right now, we’re making sure that our expenditures match our income. It’s a perennial problem for any institution, and it’s one of the things that occupies us. Another is making sure that the facilities are appropriate and match what students expect.

My hope is that we can make all members of the community feel welcomed and listened to. That’s a big part of having a successful university.

- Interim President Hank Brown

CJ: How will the university accomplish this without raising the cost of tuition?

HB: One of the options is to look at administrative costs and find ways that we can become more efficient and productive. 

CJ: How did you manage to steer UC Boulder through its many controversies, such as the sexual assault allegations and the Ward Churchill case? How do you plan to use that knowledge at Arcadia?

HB: Hopefully I won’t have to use that knowledge at Arcadia! UC Boulder had some tremendous problems. We tried to set a new format in terms of public relations, which was to deal with these problems directly. In the case of the woman who was raped on campus, she wanted to meet with the president, so we did that right away. What we did was simply take issues one by one and address them. For example, the university had used public money for alcohol, so we banned it. What I found is, if people sense that you’re working on a problem and that you have a decent spirit about it, they’re willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. If you quit doing dumb things, you’ll keep at it well!

Faculty Support

CJ: Recently the faculty voted in favor of a union to help adjunct professors negotiate job stability and living wages. Do you recognize and support the adjunct union, and what role will you play in regards to their unionization as interim president?

HB: Adjuncts play a critical part in any educational process, so it’s very understandable that they want a stronger voice. Generally, compensation for adjuncts is lower compared to other faculty members, and it’s something that obviously Arcadia is concerned about and needs to work on. We have financial challenges, there’s no question about that. It’s not for Arcadia to tell adjuncts or any other members of the community how to organize or whether they organize or not. My hope is that we can make all members of the community feel welcomed and listened to. That’s a big part of having a successful university.