I hope you had an enjoyable and restful summer. As we begin a new academic year, I want to convey my sincere gratitude to the many dedicated employees who contributed to a more robust summer semester in light of the pandemic. I am also excited to share plans to advance the rigorous, innovative and high-impact scholarship and research that continue to build Brown’s reputation for excellence. In this letter, I will reflect on accomplishments of the past year and outline priorities for the year ahead.
Yesterday, we officially welcomed new students to campus during Brown’s 258th Opening Convocation. It was wonderful to see students marching through the Van Wickle Gates and experiencing the joy of beginning their Brown journeys. I look forward to the faculty meeting later today, where new faculty members will be introduced. And, I hope all employees will join me on the College Green at 3 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24, for a staff appreciation celebration where we can enjoy spending time with the colleagues and friends we have missed.
I am beginning this academic year with a great sense of optimism. While we made many adjustments to the ways we learn and work over the past 18 months, our momentum has remained strong. As we reunite more of our campus community in-person, I am excited for the increased opportunities for collaboration and the return of other elements we have missed, including larger in-person classes, the return of our study-abroad program, athletics and expanded student activities.
Many aspects of our lives will continue to be influenced by public health considerations, but Brown’s COVID-19 response will not be a significant focus of this letter. You have received many communications on our policies. I want to express my gratitude to the entire Brown community for consistently following public health guidance to protect each other and the surrounding community. With very high vaccination rates, sound policies that are grounded in data and science, and a spirit of commitment and responsibility, we are well positioned to have a successful year.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF THE PAST YEAR
The pandemic has not stopped us from advancing our mission of education, scholarship and service, and I draw inspiration from the incredible accomplishments of the Brown community over the past 12 months. During this time, Brown faculty became trusted public voices, helping to break down misinformation about how COVID-19 spreads, as well as the safety and efficacy of vaccinations. They developed tools to track the economic impacts of the pandemic on people, businesses and communities in real time, so policy makers can spot economic problems as the emerge and develop data-based responses.
In addition, one faculty member led a landmark United Nations report warning of the catastrophic consequences of climate change, while others studied the biological mechanisms that lead to political polarization and the domestic health impacts of U.S. immigration policy. We launched a new Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research, linking research and clinical work that could one day change the trajectory of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. We received a new $19.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for the second five-year phase of the Advance Clinical and Translational Research program, which is a collaboration with the University of Rhode Island, our health system partners, and the Rhode Island Quality Institute. And a $4.9 million Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant to the Center for Study of Slavery and Justice will allow scholars, curators and students to study the relationship between European colonization in North America, the dispossession of Native American land, and slavery in New England.
Meanwhile, 27 Brown students and recent graduates have earned Fulbright scholarships and will be teaching and conducting research in 17 countries around the world this fall. Further exemplifying Brown’s academic distinction, a member of our faculty captured the Paris Kanellakis Theory and Practice Award, one of the most prestigious awards in theoretical computing. The world’s largest engineering professional organization recognized a Brown professor’s innovative teaching and support of students. And a Brown alumna earned the Pulitzer Prize in history. These are just a few examples of the many notable accomplishments of the members of our community.
We can also be proud that, despite the challenges of the pandemic, we made remarkable progress on campus improvements that will enrich our community. Earlier this year, the first students moved into a new health and wellness center and residence hall that integrates health and wellness services and programming in a single location. Planning and design continues on the Brook Street residence halls, which will help alleviate the impact that the demand for off-campus rental units has on local neighborhoods. And progress continues on the Performing Arts Center, which is moving toward expected completion in spring 2023.
Brown also has been deeply engaged with our local community. Our partnership with the United Way of Rhode Island continues to grow stronger, and 2020 marked record employee participation and contributions to support initiatives providing food, housing and childcare to Rhode Islanders in need. Following a troubling increase in incidents of gun violence in Providence, Brown joined with the Rhode Island Foundation and the Partnership for Rhode Island to provide financial support to the Nonviolence Institute, a successful community-based organization that prevents violent crime. Earlier this summer, we celebrated the opening of a transformed library and media center at Hope High School, supported by the University’s Fund for the Education of the Children of Providence. Our partnership with the Providence Public School District contributes to grow, including through a reenergized relationship with Vartan Gregorian Elementary School.
PRIORITIES FOR THE YEAR AHEAD
I am excited to share plans to support Brown’s high-impact scholarship and research and continue to sustain and build our community.
Strengthening Academic Excellence: Over the course of the past 18 months, we have learned many lessons about how we can improve our approach to teaching, research, residential life and campus operations through enhancements in online technology. In the coming year, Provost Richard M. Locke, faculty members and administrators will consider how to expand online and hybrid education. They will also consider increased opportunities for students to engage in experiential and independent learning around the country and the world while continuing to take Brown classes remotely.
Building Long-term Economic Sustainability: Last year, Provost Locke, together with numerous colleagues, developed recommendations to promote the long-term financial health and sustainability of the University with the goal of eliminating our structural deficit and identifying ways to make strategic investments in support of University priorities. The draft recommendations were shared with the campus in the early summer, and employees were invited to provide feedback. In the coming weeks, we will share the final plans and how faculty and staff will be involved in implementation.
Convening a Task Force on the Status of Women Faculty: Cultivating a diverse and talented faculty is central to our mission. Nationally and at Brown, women faculty continue to be underrepresented in numerous fields, though they represent half of the scholars awarded doctoral degrees in most fields. This year, a faculty task force led by Diane Lipscombe, professor of neuroscience and director of the Carney Institute for Brain Science, will conduct a thorough study of factors that influence the recruitment, retention and professional success of women faculty at Brown. The task force will recommend strategies for improvement. I will share its charge and membership in the next week.
Furthering Efforts in Diversity and Inclusion: Academic excellence requires that we develop and support a community composed of individuals from a wide range of backgrounds and life experiences. A priority this year will be to advance the goals outlined in Phase II of Brown’s Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan, which was released last spring. Additionally, we will begin implementing a number of recommendations from the Task Force on Anti-Black Racism, including (but not limited to) beginning a transformational renovation of Churchill House, which is home to the Department of Africana Studies and Rites and Reason Theatre, and doubling the size of the Presidential Diversity Postdoctoral Fellowship program. Finally, I am pleased to announce that thanks to the generous support of a donor, this year we will begin renovating 22 Benevolent St. to provide a new, accessible home for the LGBTQ Center. This will provide much needed community gathering, programming, meeting and office space and allow the Center to provide more extensive support to the LGBTQ community.
Planning for Enhancements to Campus Safety and Well-being: Last year, following an external review of the Department of Public Safety, the Brown University Community Council considered how we can improve Brown’s approach to ensuring the safety, security and well-being of all members of our community. There is a clear desire for a more holistic approach to safety and security that involves close collaboration between DPS, Campus Life, health and wellness programs and the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, as well as greater community engagement. In the coming year, Vice President for Campus Life Eric Estes and Vice President for Campus Safety Rodney Chatman will lead a strategic planning process to develop this vision.
Enhancing the Quality of Athletics and Recreation: In May 2020, through the Excellence in Brown Athletics Initiative, we reduced the roster of varsity sports with the goal of improving the competitiveness of varsity athletics and enhancing the strength of club sports. This year, M. Grace Calhoun, Brown’s new Vice President for Athletics and Recreation, will work with campus partners to strengthen varsity and club sports, better support the academic and personal development of student-athletes and provide greater recreational opportunities for all members of our community.
Progress on the BrownTogether Campaign: Fundraising is integral to advancing Brown’s mission of education and scholarship. Despite the many challenges of the past year, we raised a record-breaking $430.5 million in gifts and commitments. The campaign is having a major impact on Brown. For example, so far it has resulted in 107 new endowed professorships, significant support for academic programs, and $345 million in support for financial aid, including scholarships for student veterans and the removal of loans from financial aid packages awarded by the University. We will continue to focus on these and other high-impact areas in the year ahead.
This will be an energizing year as we reunite our campus community. I am filled with inspiration and excitement and look forward to all that we will accomplish together in a new academic year.
Christina H. Paxson