TIAA Institute Awards Christina H. Paxson with Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence in Higher Education

After years of leading a university that has spurred economic development, created a more equitable campus community and developed new ways to support undocumented, low-income and first-generation college students, Brown University President Christina H. Paxson is the recipient of the 2023 TIAA Institute Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence.

Sponsored by the TIAA Institute and administered by the American Council on Education (ACE), the award is named after the former president of the University of Notre Dame, Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., who was a longtime TIAA board member and civil rights leader. It’s presented to a current college or university president or chancellor for outstanding leadership of their institution and broad impact on higher education and society.

Paxson was honored for her leadership of Brown initiatives that have improved health, education and economic well-being for residents of Providence and throughout Rhode Island. She’s also launched a plan that’s recruited more students, faculty and staff from historically underrepresented groups, diversified Brown’s curriculum and found new ways to support education and research about race, ethnicity, inequality and justice.

“The TIAA Institute is proud to recognize President Paxon’s strategic vision of ongoing transformation not only for Brown University, but for the economic development of the surrounding communities,” said Surya Kolluri, head of the TIAA Institute. “She is a passionate advocate for equity and driver of positive change who truly embodies the Hesburgh spirit.”

Since joining Brown in 2012, Paxson has helped engineer public-private partnerships with government, businesses and industry, anchoring the ongoing economic transformation of Providence’s Jewelry District and bringing new life to a neighborhood underused for decades. This includes fueling the redevelopment of a long-abandoned power plant into South Street Landing, now home to 400 Brown employees, as well as Brown’s partnership with the University of Rhode Island and two global startup accelerators to create one of the state’s new innovation campuses.

In 2016, Paxson led the development of a comprehensive action plan called Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion. In the years since, Brown has increased diversity among students, faculty and staff, created new opportunities for underrepresented scholars to teach and conduct research and established a campus-wide understanding of the essential roles that diversity, equity and inclusion play in Brown’s success as a leading research university. Paxson also led efforts to create The Brown Promise, which replaced loans in the school’s financial aid packages with grants that do not have to be repaid, decreasing financial barriers to attending the university. In addition, Brown became a national model in working with its students to create one of the first student centers for undocumented, low-income and first-generation college students.

“It is a privilege for ACE to join the TIAA Institute in honoring the achievements of such an innovative higher education leader,” said ACE President Ted Mitchell. “Christina Paxson’s vision is at once global and local, focused on spurring researchers at Brown toward ground-breaking advances, fueling regional economic vitality, and ensuring access to a high-quality undergraduate education for a wide range of students. She has an unflagging dedication to the transformative power of higher education that would be appreciated by the legendary leader in whose name we honor her.”

In addition to her outstanding leadership at Brown, Paxson is a globally renowned economist and public health expert. She’s been the principal investigator on several research projects supported by the National Institutes of Health, including work that explored the relationship of economic factors to health and welfare over the life course, particularly on the lives of children. Paxson became a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2017, served as vice president of the American Economic Association, and chaired the board of directors for the Association of American Universities, which helps to shape national policy for higher education, science and innovation. She chaired the board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston in 2021 and 2022 and, most recently, was elected to the board of directors for the American Council of Education.

“I am honored to receive this award celebrating the legacy of Father Hesburgh and his commitment to education and service,” Paxson said. “This award is reflective of Brown’s mission to make a positive impact on the community, the nation and the world by advancing knowledge and understanding and preparing students to address the world’s most pressing challenges.”

Established in 1993, the Hesburgh Award recognizes leadership and commitment to higher education and contributions to the greater good. It’s presented to a current college or university president or chancellor who embodies the spirit of the late Rev. Hesburgh, who was appointed by President Eisenhower to the newly created Civil Rights Commission. The winner is selected by an independent panel of judges. To learn more, visit our Awards page.

About the TIAA Institute
The TIAA Institute helps advance the ways individuals and institutions plan for financial security and organizational effectiveness. The institute conducts in-depth research, provides access to a network of thought leaders, and enables those it serves to anticipate trends, plan future strategies and maximize opportunities for success. For more information about the TIAA Institute, visit

About TIAA
TIAA is a leading provider of secure retirements and outcome-focused investment solutions to millions of people and thousands of institutions. It is the #1 not-for-profit retirement market provider1, paid more than $6.4 billion in lifetime income to retired clients in 2021 and has $1.2 trillion in assets under management (as of 12/31/2022)2.

About Brown University
Founded in 1764, Brown is a leading research university home to world-renowned faculty, and an innovative Ivy League educational institution where the curiosity, creativity and intellect of students drives academic excellence. Brown is a place where rigorous scholarship, complex problem-solving and service to the public good are defined by intense collaboration, intellectual discovery and working in ways that transcend traditional boundaries. As a private, nonprofit institution, the University advances its mission through support from a community invested in Brown’s commitment to advance knowledge and make a positive difference locally and globally.

About American Council on Education
ACE is a membership organization that mobilizes the higher education community to shape effective public policy and foster innovative, high-quality practice. As the major coordinating body for the nation’s colleges and universities, our strength lies in our diverse membership of more than 1,700 colleges and universities, related associations, and other organizations in America and abroad. ACE is the only major higher education association to represent all types of U.S. accredited, degree-granting institutions: two-year and four-year, public and private. For more information, please visit or follow ACE on Twitter @ACEducation.