Iowa Board of Regents

The Presidents: S.J. Brownlee

The 10th president of the Iowa Board of Regents, S.J. Brownlee served on the Board from 1973 to 1985. Brownlee served as board president from 1981-85, succeeding Mary Louise Petersen. 

Brownlee was born in Mallard in 1926 to parents O.J. and Flossie and moved to Emmetsburg at the age of eight. He graduated from Emmetsburg High School in 1944 and briefly served in the United States Navy before earning a degree in economics from the University of Iowa. Brownlee married Sherry Andersen in 1948 and eventually had three children; Craig, Mark and Vicki. 

Following a two-year stint at the UI Law School, Brownlee returned to Emmetsburg to help manage the family’s farm. He served as president of the Emmetsburg Board of Education, which helped instill in him a life-long love of education. In addition, Brownlee served on several banking boards and even co-owned a newspaper. 

Brownlee was elected to the Iowa State Senate in 1970 and represented Iowa’s 45th and 8th senate districts in the 63rd and 64th General Assemblies, respectively. His wide range of service made him an excellent candidate when Governor Robert Ray appointed him to the Board of Regents in 1973. 

Brownlee’s terms with the Board were marked by the economic downturn of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Notably, the Board experienced a difficult 4.6-percent across-the-board appropriations cut just prior to Brownlee’s election as president. The Board responded in October 1981 with tuition increases of nearly 10 percent, pushing the cost of resident undergraduate tuition at Iowa and Iowa State over $1,000 for the first time. 

"It's unfortunate that the apparent cutback in federal aid comes at the same time that we must face this problem," Brownlee said to the Des Moines Register. "But we have to be worried about funds for the classroom… in these uncertain times of inflation and a stagnant economy."

Though funding was difficult to find, the universities found ways to expand their footprints. Brownlee’s Boards were particularly aggressive in expanding the three universities’ athletics facilities, as Jack Trice Stadium, the UNI-Dome and Carver-Hawkeye Arena all opened during Brownlee’s tenure with the Regents.

The former state senator approached his presidency as being an intermediary between the Iowa Legislature and the needs of the three universities, stating that the Board and its president experience “the never-ending story of making the faculty and the Legislature understand the problems of the other.”

Following his tenure as board president, Brownlee was elected to the Board of Directors of the University of Iowa Foundation and earned a Distinguished Alumni Award from the UI Alumni Association. Additionally, he was a member of the UI President’s Club and was awarded the UI’s Hancher-Finkbine Medallion, which recognizes leadership, learning, and loyalty, in 1994.

Brownlee died September 9, 2009 at his home in Emmetsburg. The 84th General Assembly noted in its memorial resolution that “in the passing of the Honorable S.J. Brownlee, the State has lost an honored citizen and faithful and useful public servant.”

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