Since joining Brown as executive vice president in 2015, the Class of 1979 graduate has transformed administrative operations in areas ranging from Finance and Facilities to Human Resources, Dining and Business Operations.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — After six years of extensive accomplishments at Brown, and an impressive career spanning more than 35 years leading administrative operations in education, Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Barbara Chernow will retire at the end of the summer.
Chernow is a Brown Class of 1979 graduate who returned to her alma mater in 2015. As the senior member of Brown’s executive team responsible for the vast majority of non-academic operations, she has led significant improvements in areas including financial planning, human resources, the internal audit function, facilities, transportation, dining, auxiliary services, information technology and business operations.
In a campus letter announcing Chernow’s decision to retire, President Christina H. Paxson said Chernow has led with innovation, creativity and a commitment to cultivating staff as both individuals and as collaborators who contribute their talents to strengthening the University.
“Barbara has played a pivotal role as Brown has worked to ensure the highest levels of excellence in its administrative and business operations to align with Brown’s long-standing commitment to academic excellence,” Paxson wrote. “At the same time, one of her strongest attributes is her commitment to investing in and supporting the people who help Brown function every day.”
Paxson noted that among the most enduring accomplishments of Chernow’s tenure at Brown is her work to strengthen the University’s financial processes. She unified disparate finance units on campus, worked with the Finance team to retain Brown’s stellar bond rating, and integrated systems across multiple departments.
As part of her efforts to enhance Brown’s financial strength, she partnered with Provost Richard M. Locke to implement a zero-based budgeting process with the goal of ensuring an increasingly predictable budget that reduces reliance on tuition revenue. Locke said Chernow’s strategic leadership of administrative and financial operations has played an essential role in enabling Brown to fulfill its academic mission.
“Our ability to make a positive impact on the world depends on sustained investment in world-class research and teaching, and support for students and scholars across campus,” Locke said. “Barbara has been an instrumental partner on both fronts, working to advance operational excellence across nearly every facet of the University. She leaves a deep legacy of continuous innovation and improvement in finance and administration.”
Chernow said whether she’s working with staff in Facilities Management, University Human Resources or Dining Services, success in improving operations on campus is rooted in building a culture of caring and a collaborative team of leaders committed to helping Brown grow, improve and fulfill its mission.
“When I think of operational excellence, I think of the people across campus who run the institution and how we can make it better — whether it’s by providing more training, more technological tools or ensuring that employees have a voice to share ideas,” she said. “That’s how I spend my day. That’s what a leader has to focus on.”
As she looks forward to a retirement of travel, time with family and championing causes in which she believes, she said she is fortunate to have been part of an incredible team helping Brown to pursue its mission.
“I will profoundly miss Brown’s incredibly collaborative spirit and vigorous sense of purpose,” Chernow said. “More than six years ago, those qualities, as exemplified by the work of Christina Paxson and employees across campus, were pivotal in my decision to return to Brown. Leaving the University twice — once after being a student, and now again after serving as an administrator — will truly be bittersweet.”
A record of accomplishment
Since arriving at Brown from Stony Brook University in March 2015, Chernow has truly transformed Brown’s administrative operations, Paxson wrote.
Under her oversight of Business and Financial Services, Brown implemented new parking management and reporting; the Transportation Office staff played a key role in addressing pedestrian safety issues in the Jewelry District and delivering improved shuttle, RIPTA and Zipcar services; and the division assumed responsibility for management of vehicles to better align with Brown’s goals for fiscal and environmental sustainability. On Thayer Street, the Brown Bookstore has continued to enhance customer satisfaction and work with the Dean of the College on special initiatives, while reducing costs and improving margins.
“When I think of operational excellence, I think of the people across campus who run the institution and how we can make it better — whether it’s by providing more training, more technological tools or ensuring that employees have a voice to share ideas. That’s how I spend my day. That’s what a leader has to focus on.”
In University Human Resources (UHR), Chernow collaborated with leaders across campus to help reshape support services. She hired a new UHR leadership team to improve recruitment and hiring processes; increased learning and development programs; and expanded the partnership with the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity. Under her leadership, UHR also conducted a review and revision of HR policies and procedures, enhanced employee benefit communications and assumed responsibility for student employment at Brown.
In 2015, Chernow assumed leadership of Dining Services, where she has worked to build a climate in which staff can contribute their creativity and offer ideas for improving service. She worked with staff to cultivate a renewed sense of community among employees and to implement service improvements from more diversified and sustainable food offerings to enhanced customer satisfaction in student meal plans, catering and retail offerings.
George Barboza, director of dining programs, said Chernow is a familiar face to staff across Dining Services, and leads with a genuine belief that the best results emerge when colleagues and stakeholders from a wide variety of perspectives have ample opportunity to offer ideas on key decisions.
“Barbara is an exceptional leader and a valued colleague who has truly transformed Dining Services and the Division of Finance and Administration as a whole,” Barboza said. “Her expertise, work ethic and passion have inspired many of us to reach our full potential and contribute in meaningful and positive ways. She leaves an indelible mark on this university, and I am honored and privileged to have had the opportunity to work so closely with her these last six years.”
One important focus of Chernow’s work has been to restructure administrative functions to improve operations, while also creating new business units to ensure Brown has the resources in place to support long-term operational health. As one example, she created the University Risk Management, Audit and Compliance function at Brown, which now has management response plans in place to safeguard the well-being of the community, physical campus, and academic and administrative operations.
In Facilities Management, Chernow enhanced collaboration with the Strategic Purchasing, Contracts and Insurance office, which has resulted in strategic vendor agreements for equipment, services, and maintenance and repair contractors. She provided essential guidance as the division created improvement plans for custodial services and grounds service, as well as several important steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and develop Brown’s net-zero plan. Those efforts followed work supporting waste diversion, the University’s thermal efficiency project and other initiatives to advance Brown’s ambitious sustainability efforts.
Chernow also initiated systems improvements that will enhance reporting and tracking capabilities in Facilities and provide collaborative processes with Finance and Computing and Information Services. To strengthen and better support procurement services University-wide, she assisted Strategic Purchasing, Contracts and Insurance with its adoption of an eProcurement technology solution, along with expanding strategic sourcing and revising purchasing policies.
Alison S. Ressler, vice chancellor of the Corporation of Brown University, said Chernow has led with a balance of strategic vision and data-informed insights that have established a firm foundation for ongoing improvement of the institution’s operations.
“Barbara has demonstrated an extraordinary ability to dig deeply into the numbers and give the administration and the Corporation the ability to make informed decisions for the future based on sophisticated modeling,” Ressler said. “We are grateful for her dedication and wisdom and will miss her deeply.”
Thomas J. Tisch, chancellor emeritus who led the Corporation when Chernow was appointed to her role at Brown, said that Chernow stands out as a leader because she has an “extraordinary spirit” and has a way of bringing joy to work that is hard and important.
“For me and others on the Corporation, it has been just a sublime pleasure to work with Barbara in the years she has been at Brown,” Tisch said. “And as great as the pleasure was, it never detracted from the sense of excellence that has been the standard in everything that Barbara touches.”
In her letter to campus, Paxson noted that, beyond Chernow’s efforts to strengthen University operations, she has demonstrated a deep commitment to supporting the Providence and Rhode Island communities. Under her leadership, Brown developed a stronger partnership with United Way of Rhode Island, where she currently serves as a board member. This year, the University’s annual workplace campaign generated record-breaking contributions to social service and other organizations.
“Barbara’s last day will be in September, but her impact at Brown will be felt for generations,” Paxson wrote. “We will miss her genuine caring and appreciation for others, and I’m very pleased that as an alumna, her connections to Brown will remain strong.”
Chernow’s six years at Brown follow more than 30 years in educational administration. At the New York City Board of Education in the early 1980s, she supervised a system of 3,100 school buses serving more than half a million students daily. She served as vice president of the New York City School Construction Authority before transitioning to higher education in 1998, when she joined Stony Brook University. There, she served in several roles before departing as senior vice president for administration to come to Brown in 2015.
Paxson will work with an executive search firm to lead a national search for Chernow’s successor.