Ezekiel Gilman Robinson (1815-1894), seventh president of Brown University, was born in Attleboro, Massachusetts. He was an indifferent student, who later said of his college days, “I had drifted aimlessly into college and drifted aimlessly through it, waking up only during the last year to see what I might and ought to have done.”
Ezekiel’s bust before restoration
Ezekiel Robinson was offered the presidency of Brown in 1867, but declined. When approached again in 1871, he reconsidered. In his autobiography, Robinson wrote, “In the spring of 1871 there came again a proposal that I should accept the presidency of Brown University. The proposal was not an enticing one. … On the other hand, regard for health, obligation as an alumnus of the University to go to its aid in the hour of its need, whispered suggestions of unsoundness in my teachings, the moral certainty of a coming revolution in theologic thought, – all combined to bring me to the conclusion that I ought not to refuse acceptance of the unwelcome call.”
Ezekiel’s bust after restoration
Perceiving that the University was most deficient in the natural sciences, and at the risk of offending the older professors who defended the old curriculum, Robinson set about establishing a professorship of physiology and hygiene, a professorship of geology and paleontology, and a professorship of astronomy. Another new professorship was that of modern languages, and the European languages, of particular interest to students who would do graduate study abroad, began to be elected in preference to the classical languages.
Graduate study was introduced by Robinson over the objections of the senior professors of Latin and Greek, but with the blessing of history professor E. Benjamin Andrews, who was to succeed him in the presidency.
Thomas D. Anderson 1874 summarized the improvements to the University during Robinson’s administration in his memorial address:
“The College showed greater material advance during the administration of Dr. Robinson than at any other period of its history.”