Date July 2, 2024
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For longtime chancellor Samuel Mencoff, a journey from student to steward of Brown

After eight years leading the Corporation of Brown University, the Providence native and Class of 1978 graduate leaves a legacy as a deeply ethical leader, an astute decision-maker and a values-driven chancellor.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — For Class of 1978 graduate Samuel M. Mencoff, Brown University has meant many things over more than six decades.

He grew up a few blocks away in Providence, within a stone’s throw of Brown Stadium. He spent four years as an undergraduate, earning a degree in anthropology, playing freshman lacrosse and leading the Association of Fraternity Presidents. He and his future wife, Ann, enjoyed their first date at Meehan Auditorium on Dec. 11, 1976, watching the men’s ice hockey team defeat Harvard 5-3.

Mencoff launched a tremendously successful career in private equity investment, as a founding partner and co-CEO of Madison Dearborn Partners in Chicago. And he has provided decades of service to Brown, as a member of the Corporation of Brown University and co-chair of the BrownTogether campaign, among a host of other engagement roles.

For the past eight years, he has served as the University’s 21st chancellor, leading the Brown Corporation in its responsibilities as the University’s highest governing body. With his term culminating on June 30, Mencoff said his relationship with Brown has continually deepened throughout his life.

Samuel Mencoff
Samuel Mencoff served as Brown University's 21st chancellor.

“One of my very earliest memories was hearing the football games announced over the loudspeakers at Brown Stadium,” Mencoff said. “From that moment on, Brown was always a magical place to me, from my earliest consciousness. And now, a lifetime later, that magic and wonder is undiminished. Brown for me was an idea that was lit early and stayed bright. It was my ticket to a far wider world, and yet it was found so close to home.”

By every measure, Mencoff has proven a superb leader, his colleagues on the Corporation and among Brown’s senior leadership team say — both in moments of major challenge and in providing guidance on initiatives aimed at strengthening academic excellence and ensuring the continued vitality of the University.

“Sam Mencoff has led the Corporation with tremendous clarity of mission and purpose through some of the most significant and consequential times in the history of this university,” President Christina H. Paxson said. “His deep and constant love for Brown has been clearly reflected in both the care and rigor with which Sam stewarded important decisions, always ensuring that we were setting priorities with a focus on the excellence of Brown’s teaching and research, and especially the people who support our mission every day.”

Mencoff’s leadership was punctuated by a commitment to the core value of community, Paxson said. Alison S. Ressler, a Class of 1980 graduate and Corporation member who served as vice chancellor from 2016 to 2022, echoed that sentiment and called Mencoff an outstanding chancellor and an exceptional human being. 

“Sam Mencoff is an incredibly keen listener, a quick study and a leader deeply invested in digging into every topic to ensure he masters the subject area, considers all relevant facts and comes to an informed opinion,” Ressler said. “He leaves an indelible mark and contributed mightily to Brown’s legacy for generations to come. His name will forever be a part of the University’s history.”

As chancellor, Mencoff helped guide the Corporation’s work over the past eight years setting the University’s budget, tuition and fees; establishing policy and strategic plans; appointing faculty and senior administrative officers; siting buildings; and accepting gifts and naming opportunities. When announcing to the Brown community in February that Chair and CEO of Bank of America Brian Moynihan will succeed him in the chancellor role, Mencoff said he looks forward to expanding his service with his other nonprofit boards while always remaining deeply committed to Brown.

Class of 1976 graduate Kevin Mundt met Mencoff while they were both undergraduates, roomed with him at Harvard Business School and worked with him in the investment sector and in service roles, including on the Corporation. He said Mencoff’s unique investing capabilities combined with a high emotional IQ were key to his success in the business world, and Brown has been among the beneficiaries of that success and the unrelenting passion for Brown that he brought to his time as chancellor.

“In many ways, Sam trained his whole life for this role, and I can say that because I was there for much of that,” Mundt said. “He brought a deft touch to the role of being a steward, leaving Brown in a better place. He is a true servant leader who possessed great vision and patience, and asked critical questions. Sam never shrank from thorny issues and was a transformative thinker, endowed with common sense. He demonstrated compassion for the constituencies of our university, always using his wisdom while never losing sight of Brown’s true north.”

A legacy of accomplishment

Mencoff’s leadership style contributed to creating a stronger university, even in difficult circumstances, his colleagues said. Mencoff’s eight years as chancellor included the COVID-19 public health emergency; significant national economic and market shifts; and racial and political unrest across the country in the wake of a focus on police violence and federal election upheaval. In addition, he presided as the University navigated the U.S. Supreme Court decision prohibiting the consideration of race in admissions, as well as unrest at Brown and other campuses nationwide in the wake of the violence in Israel and Gaza.

“The most important instruments you have in times of major disruption are the framework of values and the well of trust that you’ve built in advance,” Mencoff said. “Seeking truth and knowledge in service to society; the belief that the pursuit of education is noble; that the right to learn shouldn’t be limited by the ability to pay; that diversity is far more than a legal concept or a mathematical equation, but rather a profoundly ethical view that our differences enlighten and enhance us; and our respect for human dignity — President Paxson spoke of these core values in her very first Opening Convocation address in 2012, and they’ve been our North Star. When crises have hit, those values are what illuminated our path forward.”

Mencoff said he has treasured the opportunity to work closely with Paxson, whom he called a brilliant and values-driven leader at a time when University leadership matters more than ever. Because of her steady leadership, there is far more to celebrate and be hopeful for than to lament over the last decade, Mencoff said, as Brown leaders and students, staff and faculty across campus have propelled Brown to greater levels of excellence.

Every day in this role has been a gift. To be part of a community dedicated to the most consequential and lasting of all human creations — knowledge and ideas.

Samuel M. Mencoff Brown University Chancellor, 2016 - 2024
Sam Mencoff

Among key successes of the University during his tenure, Mencoff pointed to financial aid initiatives including the Brown Promise and the move to need-blind admissions for international students, which have lowered barriers and increased access to a Brown education, both enabled by the generosity of donors to the BrownTogether campaign and the exceptional performance of Brown’s endowment.

He also noted the University’s work to double the number of military veterans enrolled as students, the growth of the Watson Institute into a soon-to-launch School of International and Public Affairs, a new college preparation program for Providence public school students, and the launch of new affiliation agreements with Lifespan as Rhode Island’s largest health system, to be renamed Brown University Health later this year.

“The Corporation’s most important responsibilities are to select a president and enable that president to succeed, to maintain Brown’s consistency in mission and purpose for the long term, and to ensure financial stability,” Mencoff said. “As the Corporation has worked to fulfill these roles, people across campus have led those major academic and partnership endeavors and many more, all of which are extending Brown’s reach, enabling it to go faster, to aim higher and to further magnify its value to the world.”

Mencoff also noted Brown’s reimagining of the student-athlete experience, with gains in varsity and club sports competitiveness and expanding recreational programs for athletes at every level of play.

“The lessons learned through athletics are broadly applicable in a world where character is needed more than ever,” Mencoff said. “In today’s challenging world, athletics has a lot to teach us about competing with honesty and integrity, making sacrifices, striving for excellence, persevering through adversity, winning with grace and, when necessary, losing with dignity. But in the end, it’s really not about winning and losing. It isn’t even just about athletics — it’s about character.”

M. Grace Calhoun leads Brown Athletics as the Chancellor Samuel M. Mencoff ’78 Vice President for Athletics and Recreation in recognition of a generous gift from Mencoff and his wife, Ann S. Mencoff, to endow the position. She said the service and generosity of the Mencoffs has strengthened programs across campus, including the Division of Athletics and Recreation, which recently named its annual impact award in their honor.

“I can’t imagine my tenure at Brown without Sam’s generous counsel, unwavering support and enduring friendship,” Calhoun said. “We celebrate and salute his leadership as our chancellor and are grateful to know that he and Ann will continue to be bright lights in our community, and among the most spirited fans at our games.”

A champion for Brown’s biomedical research and teaching

Among the many University priorities that Mencoff has championed, Brown’s biomedical research and teaching stand out. As a descendant of generations of doctors, he originally arrived on campus with his sights set on a pre-med concentration — and a bit of a chip on his shoulder after not gaining admission to Brown’s highly selective Program in Liberal Medical Education.

“My mother’s fondest dream was that I, too, would become a doctor,” he said. “I came to Brown thinking ‘I’ll show them, I’ll go to medical school.’ But Brown was right — I learned before the end of my freshman year that being a doctor wasn’t for me.”

Ann and Sam Mencoff standing outside
Ann and Samuel Mencoff

As he pursued a successful business career, Mencoff’s appreciation for the impact that medicine can make in the lives of patients continued to inspire his engagement efforts. In 2018, he and Ann Mencoff made an extraordinarily generous gift to support biomedical researchers at Brown working to turn laboratory discoveries into treatments for diseases, and future physician-scientists enrolled in Brown’s joint M.D./Ph.D. program.

“I continue to be amazed at the important work that our brilliant medical researchers are doing every day aimed at alleviating illness, suffering and disease,” he said. “And to know the successors of today’s researchers will be able to carry that work on for generations to come means they’re going to make discoveries that we can’t even imagine now. For Ann and me, to have a small part in contributing to that has been an enormous joy.”

During his time as chancellor, Mencoff’s direct engagement and advice on new biomedical initiatives has been equally consequential. The establishment of Brown Physicians, Inc. — which brought together the medical school and multiple physician practices employing more than 500 doctors — is one example. He also played a key role in Brown’s efforts to help strengthen top-quality patient care, medical education and biomedical research in Rhode Island, including the finalization of the new affiliation agreements with Lifespan that will translate into years-long investments to strengthen the soon-to-be renamed Brown University Health.

Each of those accomplishments represents a major milestone, said Dr. Mukesh K. Jain, senior vice president for health affairs and dean of the Warren Alpert Medical School: “Chancellor Sam Mencoff’s impact on Brown’s Division of Biology and Medicine has been transformational,” Jain said. “These are efforts that will have a long-lasting legacy for Brown, for our faculty and trainees, and on health care in Rhode Island.”

At a celebration of Mencoff’s term as chancellor before Commencement and Reunion Weekend, Jain presented him with an honorary physicians’ coat: “This white coat symbolizes professionalism, care and trust — characteristics that have been so beautifully demonstrated in your tenure,” Jain told Mencoff. “I hope when you look at this coat, you will remember the deep appreciation the BioMed community at Brown holds for you.”

“The first thing I did was to take the white coat to show my mother,” Mencoff joked a few weeks later. “I said, ‘Mom, I’m still not a doctor, but at least I’m one step closer!’”

Leading with integrity

Beyond the initiatives and accomplishments over the last eight years, nearly all who worked with Mencoff cite his collegial approach and demeanor as what they’ll remember most.

“Sam leads with kindness,” Paxson said. “That is a unique and sometimes undervalued attribute in a leader, and it has touched everyone who has worked with him. He set an example to aspire to, and I consider that one of his greatest legacies.”

“ Sam leads with kindness. That is a unique and sometimes undervalued attribute in a leader, and it has touched everyone who has worked with him. ”

Christina H. Paxson President

Jain recalled meeting Mencoff during the search process that ultimately brought the dean to Providence.

“The chancellor’s warmth, kindness and ability to immediately put people at ease spoke volumes to me about the culture of this university,” Jain said. “At the same time, he has been an instrumental partner in intensively consequential issues shaping Brown’s aspirations in science and medicine.”

Mundt said Mencoff’s perseverance, creativity and ethical leadership have been consistent across decades, from the time they met as Brown undergraduates until the culmination of his term as chancellor. 

“Most importantly, Sam brought humility and unquestionable integrity to this role as he helped drive Brown and its community to better places,” Mundt said.

Mencoff, who will remain on the Corporation as a fellow, said he’s optimistic about the University’s future and expects Brown to continue to elevate its service to society through excellent teaching and research. He praised the dedication and commitment of the full Corporation and Moynihan, who assumed the role as Brown’s 22nd chancellor on July 1, 2024.

“Every day in this role has been a gift,” Mencoff said. “To be part of a community dedicated to the most consequential and lasting of all human creations — knowledge and ideas. Even the toughest challenges were an opportunity to learn and grow, and hopefully in some small way, to give something back to a place that has given me so much. It has brought a kind of satisfaction that I’ve never known anywhere else.”