Under Brown’s leadership, Berklee expanded its global presence, embraced the role of technology in music and performing arts, created the preeminent online degree-granting music education program, and dramatically increased the diversity of the leadership and student body.
Brown – only the third president in the institution’s nearly 75 year history – has led Berklee during a period of unparalleled expansion that has included the opening of a campus in Valencia, Spain, where the institution’s first master’s degree programs launched; the Boston campus’s first brand new building at 160 Massachusetts Avenue; and the acquisition of New York’s iconic Power Station studio to create BerkleeNYC, a state-of-the-art recording facility and a hub of education and creativity. A merger with the Boston Conservatory in 2016 created Boston Conservatory at Berklee – a powerhouse of music, dance and theater education. Applications to the Conservatory are up over 50 percent in the three years since the merger, while admissions have become more selective.
“Thank you for the opportunity to serve Berklee and the world of music and performing arts. This has been one of the great privileges of my life,” said Brown in a letter to the Berklee community. “I will have served 17 years by May of 2021, and while I know I will miss the work a great deal, I also believe that the time is propitious for this transition. The team of leaders at the institution has never been stronger.”
Under Brown’s leadership, the College revised its mission statement to reflect the importance of the African cultural diaspora in the creation of the blues and jazz that have formed the source code for the music taught at the College. Brown oversaw the founding of the Africana Studies Program, and the launch of several pioneering institutes, including the American Roots Music Program, Berklee Global Jazz Institute, Berklee India Exchange, Berklee Popular Music Institute, the Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship, and the Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice. Beginning in the first year of Brown’s tenure, the College bargained with the faculty union to strengthen policies to prevent sexual harassment and abuse, and has taken a number of measures to create a better and safer environment.
Berklee’s curriculum has constantly evolved with the times – Brown has advocated for innovative programs including the Video Game Scoring minor; the Harvard/Berklee dual-degree program; classes such as Hip-Hop Writing and Production and EDM Production Techniques in the Studio; and most recently, the electronic digital instruments (EDI) program, which allows students to select EDI as their principal instrument for the first time this fall.
Recognizing an opportunity to meet growing demand in the area of online education, Brown greatly expanded the offerings of the online division of the College. Since its launch, Berklee Online has taught more than 46,000 students from 162 countries. In 2014, Berklee Online began offering undergraduate degrees and has since added master’s degree programs in music business, music production, and film scoring and has won dozens of awards for educational excellence while reducing the cost of a Berklee education by over 60 percent.
Berklee trustee Gloria Estefan first met Brown when she and her husband Emilio received Berklee honorary doctorates in 2007. “We were immediately taken with his warm and engaging style of leadership as evidenced by his heartfelt interactions with students and faculty, and impressed by his meaningful accomplishments,” she said. “Since then we have had the privilege of seeing him take the school to amazing new heights, felt his guidance and support as parents of our own Berklee graduate, our daughter Emily, and experienced firsthand his skill and determination to make Berklee one of the world’s top music schools. We will miss him greatly at Berklee but look forward to enjoying our friendship for years to come.”
Brown is known for developing close relationships with many students and alumni over the years. Esperanza Spalding, Berklee’s youngest honorary doctorate recipient and the first to receive the honor who had been a student during Brown’s tenure, said “music is the medicine that holds us together and carries us through this wild ride called life. Roger has always been that steady and dedicated voice, actively championing for those daring and courageous enough to take on music work as a life’s calling. I’m profoundly grateful to Roger for always encouraging me along my journey.”
Brown’s strong relationships with students have led several to join the faculty as young alumni, including Israeli jazz saxophonist Lihi Haruvi. “I was always impressed by Roger’s commitment to this community,” said Haruvi. “He makes it a priority to learn about every student he meets, what their passion is, encouraging them, and constantly working to provide opportunities to better support them, even after they have graduated. Roger is kind to others, welcoming, forward thinking, and driven by a sense of mission and good will. I will always be grateful for his work and friendship.”
A search committee headed by Berklee trustee Martin J. Mannion will work to identify Brown’s replacement. The timeline for Brown to step down is flexible. Brown’s final day as president is planned for May 31, 2021, but could be earlier depending on when a successor is named.
“I stand ready to assist the new president in whatever way they deem useful.” said Brown. However, he emphasized, “I’m not going anywhere soon. I am dedicated to pursuing the many programs and projects we have underway: the Thrive program, construction of a new residence hall, and more. I intend to keep us moving forward right up until the moment I hand the baton to my successor.”