Letter to alumni and current parents

August 4, 2014

Dear Members of the Brown Community,

I am writing to you—Brown alumni, parents and friends—during the brief lull of summer to provide an update on Brown’s progress over the last year, and to tell you about some important events and activities in the year ahead.

This past year was remarkable in many respects. We attracted exceptionally talented new faculty and academic leaders, including a new provost and dean of the college, and we have celebrated student and faculty honors and awards acknowledging promising scholarship and enduring contributions to society. We admitted outstanding new undergraduate, graduate and medical students who will join our community in the fall. Notably, we launched our celebration of the 250th anniversary of Brown’s founding, which will continue through May 2015.

Progress on the Plan

Brown’s new strategic plan, Building on Distinction, was approved by the Brown Corporation in October 2013. This plan reflects our collective aspiration to move Brown to a new level of excellence in innovative scholarship and education, building on Brown’s key strengths: a culture that supports collaboration across disciplinary boundaries; an open curriculum that cultivates intellectual entrepreneurship; and a community that values educating a diverse group of outstanding students and producing scholarship that serves the community, nation and world. Already, we have made substantial progress in moving this plan forward. Specific accomplishments include:

  • Engaged scholarship: Brown students are eager to connect their classroom learning with hands-on experience. We are strengthening Brown’s summer internship program to provide undergraduates with a richer array of opportunities and expanded financial support for students who cannot otherwise afford to take on low- or unpaid internships or research projects. The expanded summer internship program will be complemented by a new program in "engaged scholarship" that encourages students to combine their academic work with off-campus experiences in a rigorous and purposeful way. More information on both of these new programs will be provided in the fall.
  • Graduate student support: Brown was an early leader in graduate education. As I described in a recent edition of the Brown Alumni Magazine, Brown attracts exceptional graduate students who are drawn to Brown’s distinctive approach to education and scholarship, and who contribute to the overall excellence of the University. However, we face fierce competition for the best graduate students. In the spring, we conducted a successful pilot of a program that provides elite fellowships to the most outstanding applicants to Brown’s doctoral programs. An anonymous donor has given $25 million—the single largest gift ever made to Brown’s graduate school—to endow these fellowships into the future.
  • Integrative scholarship: Brown excels at "integrative scholarship" — research and education on subjects that draw on multiple academic disciplines. The strategic plan calls for targeted investments in areas of integrative scholarship that play to Brown’s strengths. One of the integrative themes in the strategic plan is "Sustaining Life on Earth." This past spring, the faculty and the Corporation approved the creation of the Institute for the Study of Environment and Society, which will support research and education on the complex scientific, social, political and cultural factors that underpin climate change. To further another integrative theme, "Cultivating Creative Expression," we have started a planning process to build Brown’s capacity in the arts and more closely connect the arts to the sciences and humanities.
  • New modes of education: For many years, Brown has run one of the largest summer programs in the United States for high school students, which provides education on the Brown campus, internationally and, increasingly, online. This spring, the Department of Continuing Education was renamed the School of Professional Studies (SPS), to acknowledge its expanding role as a provider of high-quality "blended" (in-person and online) programs for mid-career students. SPS offers the Brown–IE MBA program, which the faculty voted this year to give full joint–degree status, an Executive Master of Healthcare Leadership, and is developing an Executive Master of Engineering Management. These programs provide excellent education to a new and growing population of students.

Supporting the University

Our strategic plan outlines ambitious goals for the University. Progress will require successful fundraising, strong endowment returns, the dedicated efforts of alumni and parent volunteers, and a continuing commitment on the part of the faculty and staff to make the best possible use of the University’s resources.

Fortunately, thanks to the extraordinary generosity of alumni, parents and friends of Brown, our fundraising results for the last fiscal year were superb. In FY14, Brown raised a total of $225.8M in new gifts and pledges from more than 39,700 donors, meeting our ambitious fundraising goal of $225M. This represents a 16% increase over FY13. New gifts and pledges include $93M in current use funds that will support financial aid and a range of campus priorities; $95.1M for endowment, including financial aid funds, doctoral fellowships, endowed professorships, and program support; and $37.6M for other uses, including capital projects, such as new buildings for engineering and applied math. While the final FY14 return on our endowment will not be available until the fall, all indications are that our investment office had an excellent year.

My deep thanks to all who supported the University through financial contributions. I also want to recognize those of you who have contributed in so many other ways — for example, by hiring Brown students as summer interns, interviewing prospective students, serving on advisory councils or alumni groups, coming to campus to provide lectures or to mentor students, and by participating in Brown alumni events.

Addressing Challenges

The last academic year was not without its challenges. On October 29, a lecture by then–New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly was canceled due to interruptions by students and community members who objected to the use of stop–and–frisk policing and racial profiling. This episode raised a host of issues related to censorship on campus as well as our ability to cultivate a diverse and inclusive community. More recently, we joined with colleges and universities nationally to address the important issue of sexual assault on our campuses. These issues have tested, and will continue to test, our aspirations for the kind of community we want Brown to be now, and in the future.

After the Kelly incident, I charged a faculty–student–staff committee to consider the issues that were brought to the fore by the events of October 29, and to make recommendations on how Brown can maintain an inclusive and supportive environment for all while upholding our commitment to the free exchange of ideas. The second and final report from this committee was submitted to me on May 20. I will provide a formal response to that report in early September, after I have met with the committee to discuss their recommendations. My response will include information on the steps the Brown administration will take to ensure that similar incidents do not occur in the future.

This summer, we have made significant progress evaluating our policies and procedures regarding sexual assault, with a specific focus on compliance with the new recommendations that the U.S. Department of Education issued in the spring of 2014. This includes hiring an external consultant to review University practices and resources; expanding the training and information provided to new students, department chairs, residential peer leaders, and other University staff; and conducting searches for new staff members in Counseling and Psychological Services and University Health Services who will strengthen our prevention and counseling programs. This fall, a task force will make recommendations on changes to Brown’s policies and practices on sexual assault. A website has been created that provides information on our progress. I am committed to ensuring that Brown is a leader in the prevention of sexual assault, and that we follow sensitive and fair procedures when allegations of sexual misconduct are brought to our attention.

I look forward to discussing these and other issues with you at the 250th Fall Celebration scheduled for campus September 27–28, 2014, during Family Weekend in October, or at a Brown event near you. You will receive further information about these events in the coming weeks.

Thank you again for all that you do for Brown. I am even more optimistic about the University’s future than I was two years ago, when I first moved to Providence, in large part because of the deep commitment of the Brown community to the University’s continued success.

Sincerely,

Christina Paxson
President