Executive Turntable

Berklee College of Music President Roger H. Brown to Step Down in 2021

Roger H. Brown
Kelly Davidson

Roger H. Brown

The prestigious performing arts college expanded its global footprint and tackled issues of diversity and affordability under his leadership.

Berklee College of Music president Roger H. Brown will step down from the position effective May 31, 2021, the school announced Thursday (Oct. 17). Brown has served since 2004 and is only the third president in Berklee’s nearly 75-year history.

“Thank you for the opportunity to serve Berklee and the world of music and performing arts,” he wrote in a letter to the Berklee community. “This has been one of the great privileges of my life. 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, Berklee has greatly expanded its global footprint, including the opening of a campus in Valencia, Spain; the construction of the Boston campus’s first brand-new building; the creation of the recording facility BerkleeNYC, housed in New York’s historic Power Station studio; and the creation of the Boston Conservatory at Berklee following the 2016 merger of the two schools.

Brown’s reign also came to be marked by his commitment to implementing initiatives around diversity and inclusion. In addition to revising its mission statement to reflect the influence of the African cultural diaspora in the blues and jazz music that serves as the basis of the school's curriculum, Brown oversaw the founding of the Africana Studies Program and launched institutes including the American Roots Music Program, Berklee Indian Exchange and the Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice. During his first year on the job, the college also bargained with the faculty union to strengthen policies put in place to prevent sexual harassment and abuse.

In an effort to modernize the school's curriculum, Brown also helped to implement a number of new programs, including the addition of the Video Game Scoring minor, the introduction of new classes such as Hip-Hop Writing and Production and EDM Production Techniques in the Studio, and establishment of the electronic digital instruments (EDI) program that this fall allowed incoming students to select EDI as their principal instrument for the first time.

Brown also demonstrated a commitment to tackling issues of affordability. Under his leadership, the amount of scholarship support awarded to incoming students increased by more than 500% to $70 million annually. He also helped establish Thrive Scholarships, which provide additional aid to upper semester students with strong academic performance and unmet financial need. In addition, he greatly expanded the school’s award-winning online division, which now provides undergraduate and master’s degree programs to remote students and has reduced the cost of a Berklee education by more than 60%.

Financially, Berklee’s endowment nearly tripled under Brown’s leadership, growing to $365 million in the 2018 financial year. In 2008, he spearhead the institution’s first capital campaign in history, raising $54.5 million to fund scholarships for programs such as Berklee City Music, which supports underserved high school students in the U.S. and Canada. A second capital campaign that kicked off in 2014 recently closed with more than $160 million raised.

In light of Brown's resignation, Berklee trustee Gloria Estefan described first meeting Brown when she and her husband Emilio Estefan received honorary doctorates from the college 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 in a statement. “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.”

Four-time Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding -- a Berklee alumna under Brown’s tenure who became the school’s youngest honorary doctorate recipient in 2018 -- also offered comment on Brown's forthcoming departure.

“Music is the medicine that holds us together and carries us through this wild ride called life,” she said. “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.”

A search committee led by Berklee trustee Martin J. Mannion will work on finding a replacement for Brown, who may step down earlier than his announced end date if a successor is named before then.  

“I stand ready to assist the new president in whatever way they deem useful.” said Brown, who added, “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.”