Candidate Jeremy Brown rises to the top of president search

Jeremy Brown is the top candidate to be the new PCC president.Portland Community College began negotiations this week with one of the three candidates vying to replace President Preston Pulliams, who will retire in June.

The candidate, Jeremy Brown, hasn’t been waiting by the phone.

Two weeks ago, he accepted an offer to serve as acting president of SUNY (State University of New York) Canton, a two- and four-year college in Northern New York for about 6,000 students studying technology, health, management and public service.

“We were aware of this,” says Deanna Palm, co-chairwoman of the PCC board and president of the search committee. “Obviously, (SUNY) wasn’t his first choice, and he made us aware of that during the entire interview process.”

Brown was named as acting president of SUNY when its president left to take a job in Washington state. “Acting president” means that he may participate in the search for a new president, which will start this fall, or may be considered for the permanent job, according to Canton officials.

Brown, a nuclear physicist, had served as provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at SUNY Canton from 2003 to 2007.

Having one foot in the door at his old stomping ground “didn’t change his desire to be at PCC,” Palm told the Tribune on Tuesday. “We’re very confident in his abilities to lead PCC, to work with the board, faculty, staff and community.”

Palm says a contract with Brown could be ready for approval at the next board meeting on April 18. The new president’s position begins July 1, the same time his post at SUNY was to begin.

Portland came calling after a national search process that began in September.

The search committee had narrowed the field from nine semifinalists to three top contenders in February, then held a round of public forums with Brown and the other two last month. Those two — Tod Burnett and Richard Duran — were notified this week that they were out of the running.

Brown’s simultaneous overtures to SUNY and PCC are his latest moves in a fast-moving career.

In the past 20 years, he’s held six top spots at academic institutions, none for more than five years. Most recently he served as president of Dowling College — a 6,300-student liberal arts institution in Long Island, N.Y. He left 15 months into his three-year contract at Dowling, which was set to expire in June 2014.

Palm says that part of his history has been vetted and Brown was not “fired” — it was a mutual decision between Dowling’s board of trustees and Brown to part ways.

Now, Brown is poised replace Pulliams as PCC president — a highly political and pivotal role that will undoubtedly shape the direction of education reform and funding in the state.

Pulliams served at PCC’s top post for eight years. He was widely respected and known for his larger-than-life persona. Pulliams led the state’s largest post-secondary institute serving nearly 95,000 full- and part-time students in five local counties through several tumultuous state budget cycles, marked by program cuts and tuition hikes.

Today, the college has three major campuses — Sylvania, Rock Creek and Cascade — seven service centers and dozens of community education programs in nearly 30 cities across PCC’s 1,500-square-mile district.

Prior to his post at Dowling, Brown led Edinboro College, a four-year institution in rural Northwestern Pennsylvania, for four years. As noted by the town’s local paper, the Erie Times-News, that duration was unusual for the college — whose past presidents had served between 11 and 17 years.

But it was not unusual for Brown. Brown’s prior posts include:

Provost and vice president for academic affairs at the State University of New York at Canton, from 2003 to 2007

Rector of Florida State University-Panama, in Latin America, from 2000 to 2003

Associate dean of faculty at Princeton University, 1995 to 2000

Associate dean of the Yale University graduate school, 1992 to 1995

The next step

Brown had been charged with fixing a fiscal crisis at Dowling upon his arrival. Enrollment was at a 20-year low; the school ran a budget deficit of $1 million in 2011, and was $60 million in debt. He was the fourth leader the college had in a span of six years.

At Edinboro, the Pennsylvania university he led from July 2007 to May 2011, the school was better positioned, and he’s credited with many successes. During his tenure, the school grew from 7,500 to 8,300 students, and oversaw about $200 million in new and future campus construction projects.

According to the Erie Times-News, there was a clash between the university and town residents in 2008 when he moved the university’s annual homecoming parade out of town and onto campus. About 400 residents petitioned to move the parade back into town, although Brown told the paper he was just trying to showcase the campus to visitors, and he welcomed community members’ involvement.

Palm, the PCC search committee co-chairwoman, says Brown’s leadership qualities and background rose to the top of the search. The length of his duration at past institutions was not a concern, she says; his term at PCC will be part of the negotiations. All of the finalists are aware of PCC’s desire for stability in leadership and a commitment to the institution, she says.

“We are very confident in Dr. Brown’s willingness and desire to be in Portland, and certainly his broad spectrum of experience will lend to his leadership in Portland.”

The transition for any leader who comes from out of state is a challenge, Palm admits, but she’s optimistic the community and college will embrace him.

And the fact that PCC serves 95,000 students — exponentially more than Brown’s prior institutions — was also not a worry.

“It would be difficult to find someone who’s led an institution of this size,” Palm says. “I think this is an opportunity where you find someone that has, throughout their career, held positions that make it possible to take the next step.”

A native of Manchester, England, Brown earned his bachelor of science degree and his doctorate in physics from the University of Birmingham, England.

His doctoral work in experimental nuclear physics was conducted at both the University of Birmingham and the University of California-Berkeley.

He spent two years at Indiana University pursuing physics research, followed by a faculty position in the physics department at Princeton University.

In addition to authoring several scholarly papers and articles, he was a visiting scientist at the University of Manitoba, Oxford University, and the National Accelerator Centre in Cape Town, South Africa.

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