Conversations We Should Have at Brown University

Participants in the February 2014 Transformative Conversations@Brown program were invited to identify conversations that we should be having at Brown both through a small group brainstorm and through the post-program evaluation form. All suggestions were received and processed by the Transformative Conversations@Brown Planning Committee.

While there were many suggested topics, they largely clustered around a more manageable set of themes. We are sharing these themes, in part, to respond to the concern raised that the communication loop can be improved at Brown. These themes will guide the future directions of the TC@B project.

Beyond topics for conversation, we heard about the importance of increasing our collective capacity for effective and productive conversation. Doing so seems even more imperative given campus, local, national, and global challenges with conversation and dialogue.

Finally, as we present topics for conversation, there were a significant number of comments indicating that having more opportunities to talk was important in and of itself. Many expressed appreciation for the opportunity the small group gatherings afforded for just that.

Themes and Subtopics from February 19, 2014 Program

Below is a list of major themes we identified from the submissions. The order of their presentation is not intended to prioritize some themes over others. We have tried to be inclusive and reflect as many of the topics raised. We are also providing some specific topics or key words raised by participants to be illustrative and to show the richness of the discussion, but they are not all encompassing. We are not including all examples – that list would be pages and pages.

Please contact us at if you are interested in seeing more detail about the submissions received. Please note that we have been taking great care to remove any references that may be identifiers. Also, if you have any additional suggestions, topics, or edits to the following, please forward those to us, as well.

  1. Value and Importance of Diversity
    Structural support or lack thereof. Where are we on the continuum of being non-discriminatory, multicultural, inclusive? Class and how it is reflected at Brown including financial aid. Racism at Brown. Parity and equity of voice, pay of women and women of color. Diversity of senior administration, faculty, and/or departments.
  2. Diversity of Thought, Free Speech, Academic Freedom
    What is academic freedom at Brown and who has it? Brown’s “liberal culture,” intolerance of non-conforming views. The culture of activism at Brown; speaking truth to power. Impact of security, privacy, and technology on free speech.
  3. Who Are We? What is Brown Becoming? How Do I Fit In?
    How do we define Brown? Is there a common understanding? Should there be? What should Brown look like in 2050? Brown as University-College: retaining the strengths of Brown as we move into the future. Teaching vs. research. Graduate and professional education vs undergraduate education. Supporting faculty, staff, and students. Keeping Brown student-centered. What is my role as a member of the faculty, staff, student body, etc.
  4. Creating and Sustaining Community as Brown Grows and Evolves
    What are we giving up to grow? What are we gaining? What does it mean to expand/relocate from one main campus?
  5. Power, Privilege, Equity and Voice
    Power dynamics between and among constituencies. Equity vs. equitable. “Let’s be honest about what can be said and what cannot and who controls the conversation.” Distribution of resources (financial, space, staff positions, time), what receives priority, what doesn’t, how do we decide, and who decides. Governance systems and voice:  do they matter?
  6. Respect for Ideas and Individuals
    Structures, policy, and process. Respectful interactions between and among individuals, constituencies, hierarchies, and between central administration and individual departments. Morale. Work-life balance, what does it mean to support your staff/employees? The role of "staff" in the Brown enterprise (under-appreciated, feeling undervalued, blamed for "bloat" and increase in tuition, blamed for diversion of resources from other areas.
  7. Management Challenges Across University
    Managing change, diversity defined broadly, growth / reduction, and resources. The (in)effectiveness of and (lack of) support for managers. Does the environment support diverse perspectives and styles in decision-making? Support and encouragement of staff professional development (or lack thereof). Walking the talk. Accountability. “The Brown way.”
  8. Communication and Transparency
    Feedback and communication loops. What happens to information gathered? Information flow across constituencies. Providing context and purpose. “You don’t need to know that.”
  9. Brown’s Role in the Surrounding Community
    Need/poverty within city and privilege at Brown. Brown as an engine for growth. What is Brown’s responsibility to make better schools, make a better place for Providence, for the state, for the world? What does that look like?
  10. The Future of Higher Education
    Is it sustainable (e.g. cost of tuition, financial aid, etc.)?  How is it changing? Impact of grant requirements and the continual need to find funding? Cost of higher education and perceptions of students/families, the “value” of higher education, and role of financial aid. Culture around grading.