Ezekiel Gilman Robinson graduated from Brown in 1838. He later said of his college days, "I had drifted aimlessly into college and drifted aimlessly through it, waking up only the last year to see what I might and ought to have done." Unsure of what he wanted to do, Robinson rented a room at Brown and became a "resident graduate," studying German under Professor Horatio B. Hackett and occasionally preaching.
When Hackett departed Brown for the Newton Theological Institution, Robinson followed. After his graduation from Newton and ordination in 1842, Robinson served in a variety of teaching and clerical positions until he was appointed professor of Christian Theology at Rochester Theological Seminary in 1853. In 1860, he became its president. In 1867, he was offered the presidency of Brown, but declined. When he was offered the position again in 1871, he accepted.
The College underwent great material and academic advancements during Robinson's tenure. He instituted graduate study at Brown over the objections of the senior professors of Latin and Greek, but with the approbation of history professor E. Benjamin Andrews, who would succeed him as president. He introduced professorships in physiology and hygiene; geology and paleontology; astronomy; botany; and modern languages. And he presided over the near doubling of the endowment, the renovation of University Hall, and construction of the Library (Robinson Hall), Sayles and Slater Halls. Satisfied with the state of the University, Robinson resigned in 1889.