The Brown Curriculum
Like many institutions dedicated to the liberal arts, Brown has traditionally encouraged its undergraduates to study broadly and deeply, to become self-reflective, and to develop a moral core. But twice in its history, the institution was challenged to do more. In 1850, Brown's fourth president, Francis Wayland, argued for greater freedom in the undergraduate curriculum, so that every student would be able to "study what he chose, all that he chose, and nothing but what he chose." A century later, in 1969, another group of reformers — this time composed of students and faculty — outlined an even more ambitious plan that would realize Wayland's vision for a new generation. They called it the New Curriculum. Placing fresh emphasis on the "liberal" aspect of the liberal arts, the New Curriculum gave students the right to choose, the right to fail, and above all the freedom to direct their own education. For almost forty years this embrace of independence has defined Brown's place in the landscape of undergraduate education in the United States.
There is much evidence to suggest that our liberal approach to education works. The success of our graduates in professional degrees, graduate programs, and in a wide range of careers—and the satisfaction of undergraduates as measured on frequent comparative surveys—attest to the continuing vitality and coherence of the curriculum's underlying philosophy. Yet we cannot rest on this success without an ongoing examination of how well we are preparing our students for the future.
Thus, as we enter the 21st century, the College has taken the time to ask challenging questions about the continuing quality of the undergraduate experience at Brown. How should we be enhancing that experience to prepare our students for meaningful lives in an increasingly interconnected world? In 2007-08, the Dean of the College convened a Task Force on Undergraduate Education to review our programs and to make recommendations for the future. Consulting broadly with faculty, students, and alums, the Task Force met throughout fall 2007 and released a draft report in spring 2008. A final report incorporating more feedback from Brown community members was released in September 2008. We believe that this process of self-examination has helped to ensure Brown's place as a leader in innovative undergraduate education.