Berklee President Roger H. Brown Announces He Will Step Down in 2021

By 
Margot Edwards
October 17, 2019
Press release
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Under Brown's leadership, Berklee expanded its global presence, embraced technology, and increased diversity of the leadership and student body.

Roger H. Brown
Image by Kelly Davidson
Image by Dave Green
Image by Dave Green

Roger H. Brown, who has served as Berklee’s president since 2004, announced that he is stepping down from the position effective May 31, 2021. Under Brown’s leadership, Berklee has 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 of the college.  

Brown—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 construction of the Boston campus’s first custom-built 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, and 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,” Brown wrote 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, and 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 instrument (EDI) program, which allows students to select EDI as their principal instrument.

Addressing affordability has been a priority of Brown’s. In his time as president, the amount of scholarship support awarded to entering students has increased more than 500 percent, to $70 million annually. Presidential Scholarships covering full tuition and room and board, first instituted at the College in 2005, have also been created for Conservatory students. Berklee recently launched Thrive Scholarships, which reward additional aid to upper-semester students who have demonstrated both strong academic achievement and unmet financial need. Early results of the Thrive program indicate dramatic reductions in debt levels for the recipients and increases in retention rates. 

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. Berklee Online has won dozens of awards for educational excellence, and has reduced the cost of a Berklee education by over 60 percent.

Under Brown’s leadership, the institution’s endowment has nearly tripled, growing to over $365 million in FY 2018. Brown shepherded Berklee through the first capital campaign in the College’s history: Giant Steps, launched in 2008, raised $54.5 million to fund scholarships for programs such as Berklee City Music, which supports underserved high school students in over 40 programs in the United States, Canada, and Latin America. Soundbreaking, a second capital campaign launched in 2014, exceeded its $121 million goal. The campaign recently closed with more than $160 million raised, allowing the institution to further increase scholarships and support state-of-the-art facilities and groundbreaking institutes.

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 goodwill. 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 time line 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.”  

Read the addendum to the press release with further detail on achievements during Roger H. Brown's tenure.

Read President Brown's letter to the community announcing his decision.

Read quotes about Brown from alumni and honorary doctorate recipients.

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