President Hornig was by all accounts a brilliant scientist. He graduated from Harvard in 1940 and received his Ph.D. in chemistry there in 1943. After working at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, he became a group leader at Los Alamos as the nation worked toward the first atomic bomb. He joined the Brown faculty as assistant professor in 1946, becoming a full professor five years later at the age of 31, one of the youngest ever. He moved to Princeton in 1957.
By 1970, when he became Brown’s fourteenth president, Hornig had been a scientific adviser to four U.S. presidents (Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon), served on the Kennedy Task Force on Space, and was among the first scientific officers within government to predict that environmental action would become a major national issue.
His years at Brown were not easy. The University was running significant deficits when he began as president, the national economy was troubled, and the energy crisis of the early 1970s was worsening an already difficult time. Hornig made very difficult decisions, reducing University expenditures by 15 percent, developing a three-year austerity plan, even reducing the size of the faculty.
Difficult as the work was, Hornig could see its eventual success. When he resigned in 1975 (serving through the 1975-76 academic year), he had reduced the annual deficit from $4.1 million in 1970-71 to $636,000, and the University was back on a sound financial footing.
In receiving Hornig’s resignation with regret, Chancellor Charles C. Tillinghast wrote, “I note with satisfaction that the path toward a stable fiscal condition has been laid down. … This is essential to the University’s long-term educational viability. Your successor will be grateful that so much of this frequently thankless task has been accomplished.”
“President Hornig was an exceptional scientist and an influential policy adviser. As Brown’s president, he was able to make difficult fiscal decisions that put the University back on a firm footing,” said Brown University President Christina H. Paxson. “Much of Brown University’s success over the last three decades had its roots in these decisions, for which we remain grateful.”