As we reach the end of the summer, I am excited to share plans for the coming academic year to advance the rigorous, innovative and high-impact scholarship and research that continue to build Brown’s reputation for excellence. I also want to highlight some of Brown’s recent achievements, and touch on several complex issues affecting higher education that will demand our attention in the coming year.
IMPACT THROUGH ACADEMIC STRENGTH
Every day, I see faculty and staff, together with our students, embracing the mission of advancing society through Brown’s distinctive approach to rigorous scholarship and student-centered education.
Over the past year, Brown faculty discovered ancient ruins buried in the Amazon jungle and exposed ice deposits on the moon’s surface. They identified racial factors in the disciplining of elementary school children, developed computer models to test new sickle cell drugs, and explored climate change’s effects on some plant species. Brown researchers received separate federal grants to create a research center on substance misuse and chronic disease, and to support pioneering work on more effective opioid addiction treatments. And thanks to a $25 million gift to fund the creation of a new economics research center, faculty and students will benefit from increased opportunities to conduct high-impact, data-driven research and educate the next generation of economics scholars.
We can all be proud that, for the third year in a row, Brown remains the top producer of Fulbright student scholarship recipients in the nation. And further reflecting Brown’s academic distinction, two Brown faculty members received the Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering, the nation’s top honor for early-career scientists and engineers. Faculty members also captured the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary feature. These are but a few examples of the accomplishments of members of our community.
We can be just as proud that we are bringing the best and brightest students to Brown, regardless of their family income. Next week marks the second year of The Brown Promise financial aid initiative, which is reducing the debt burdens of our students by eliminating loans from Brown’s financial aid packages and replacing them with University scholarships. As we enter the final years of our $3 billion campaign, BrownTogether, we will focus our fundraising on financial aid, among other high-priority areas such as endowed faculty chairs, to advance the goals of the Building on Distinction strategic plan.
A CELEBRATION OF THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE OPEN CURRICULUM
As Brown embarks on a new academic year, 2019-20 begins with a notable milestone. This academic year marks the 50th anniversary of the “Brown Curriculum.” Passed by the faculty following a marathon meeting May 6-8, 1969, and implemented the following fall as the New Curriculum, the Open Curriculum remains as one of Brown’s defining features.
A steering committee, chaired by Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey, has planned a year-long celebration with programming that will continue throughout the year, including at Opening Convocation, a combined Family and Alumni Fall Weekend, and at Commencement and Reunion in May. The Board of Fellows has also decided that honorary degrees will be awarded only to recipients with Brown undergraduate degrees from 1968 to the present, whose accomplishments reflect the principles of the Open Curriculum.
OTHER PRIORITIES FOR THE YEAR AHEAD
The University is committed to controlling tuition increases so that a Brown education remains affordable for our students from all backgrounds, while also ensuring that available resources are targeted to Brown’s highest priorities. To ensure financial sustainability to achieve Brown’s ambitions, Provost Richard M. Locke will share in coming weeks some important changes to the University’s budget development process.
We will also advance our goal of building a more diverse and inclusive community. Last year, we launched the second-ever campus climate survey for faculty, staff and students. The Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity will lead efforts to analyze the results and develop concrete actions in response to the survey. We will develop a new professional development program for mid- and upper-level administrative leaders to be launched in the beginning of next year, and extend our efforts on professional development at all levels.
Another priority is to develop plans to support local schools in Providence. Brown has a longstanding commitment to K-12 education, as noted in the 2007 Report of the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice. Over the summer, a devastating external review of the Providence Public Schools District was released, and the state plans to intervene in the Providence schools in the coming year. A small task force will develop a strategy for how Brown, in collaboration with other local colleges and universities, can support the state’s efforts to improve the quality of K-12 education in Providence.
Finally, we will continue several major construction and renovation projects this year, and begin others. Brown will continue construction for the Performing Arts Center (PAC) and a new lacrosse and soccer facility. The move of Sharpe House to accommodate the PAC will provide our History Department with enhanced and accessible space. Brown will launch construction of a new health and wellness center and residence hall, and move forward on plans that meet Brown’s ambitious sustainability goals. Specifically, Brown will reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent by 2025, and become a “net zero” campus by 2040.
CONFRONTING CHALLENGES IN HIGHER EDUCATION
Even as we celebrate the growing strength of our campus and community, higher education continues to brace for policy and other changes that affect our work of education and research.
We continue to await a court ruling in the Harvard case that challenges the consideration of race in admissions. In addition, we may see significant changes in federal regulations that govern how schools are required to handle complaints of sexual and gender-based harassment and violence. This comes even as Brown completes a three-year review of the University's progress toward implementing the 2014 Sexual Assault Task Force's recommendations, and as we prepare for the October release of results from the sexual assault climate survey administered by the Association of American Universities (AAU).
There continues to be uncertainty around the government’s handling of visas and status for international students and scholars. Over the last few years, colleges and universities have seen an increase in the number of impediments put in the paths of our international students, faculty and staff. Brown continues to advocate with our peers and higher education associations for these students and scholars who are so vital to our communities.
Separately, the recent national admissions cheating scandal has raised questions about the integrity of the admissions process at selective colleges and universities. I believe strongly that students should be admitted to Brown based on demonstrated achievement and future promise, regardless of their financial means, and, once students come to campus, they deserve to be treated equally, with no special preferences due to family wealth or connections. Last spring I charged an ad hoc committee on Equity and Integrity in Admissions to ensure that Brown’s processes are aligned with our mission and values. The committee will produce a final report by the beginning of the spring semester.
This will be a year of reflecting Brown’s commitment to upholding our values — building knowledge and understanding in service to the world, and respecting and valuing diverse perspectives and experiences. As always, I am honored to serve Brown and this wonderful community, and I am filled with inspiration and excitement as we begin a new academic year.