I hope that you had a restful and rejuvenating summer. As we prepare for the beginning of classes, I am excited to share priorities for the coming academic year that reflect Brown’s bold ambitions for continued growth as a leading research university committed to excellence in education. In this letter, I will also highlight some of Brown’s recent achievements and touch on complex issues affecting higher education that will demand our attention.
But first, an invitation — I hope you will join us for Brown’s 259th Opening Convocation, which marks the beginning of the 2022-23 academic year. It will take place at 4 p.m. Tuesday, September 6, on the College Green and will feature a keynote address from our new Sorensen Family Dean of Engineering Tejal A. Desai. I look forward to seeing enthusiastic students marching through the Van Wickle Gates and celebrating the beginning of their Brown journeys.
IMPACT THROUGH ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE
Every day I see faculty and staff, together with students, embracing Brown’s mission of bettering society through a distinctive approach to rigorous scholarship and student-centered education.
To give but a few examples, over the past year Brown faculty uncovered a hidden neighborhood in an ancient Maya city and were among the first scientists in the U.S. to study an asteroid that could lead to a better understanding of how the solar system formed. Faculty partnered with local schools to consider how after-school music programs might help close opportunity and achievement gaps among K-12 students in Rhode Island, and they worked with faith-based leaders in Providence to increase participation of Black community members in Alzheimer’s prevention studies. Other faculty members worked side-by-side with students and research staff to develop catalysts for recycling carbon dioxide to combat the catastrophic effects of climate change.
Brown researchers received a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to lead an urgently-needed study of COVID vaccine effectiveness in seniors that will inform decisions about booster shots for nursing home residents. And thanks to a $10.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, Brown researchers and students have increased opportunities to conduct high-impact, data-informed research at the Center for Computational Biology of Human Disease to unlock insights that will ultimately benefit patients.
We also can all be proud that for the fourth time, Brown earned the No. 1 spot as the country’s top producer of Fulbright winners. Further reflecting Brown’s academic distinction, one Brown student was selected as a Rhodes Scholar and another was named as a Harry S. Truman Scholar. A faculty member was named one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People of 2022, and a Brown alumnus captured the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences.
We can be just as proud that we are making Brown even more accessible to the most talented students regardless of socioeconomic background. We made investments in financial aid to significantly increase scholarships for low- and moderate-income students as well as veterans, and we have made substantial progress toward our fundraising goals to support the move toward need-blind admissions for international students. As we head into the final years of the $4 billion BrownTogether campaign that was extended last year, we will focus on financial aid, among other high-priority areas, including recruiting and retaining world-class scholars, establishing best-in-class career programming, and strengthening athletics and recreation.
PRIORITIES FOR THE YEAR AHEAD
Our plans for the coming year support Brown’s high-impact scholarship and research and focus on sustaining and strengthening the Brown community and the greater Providence and Rhode Island communities.
Research Growth and the Integrated Life Sciences Building
As we shared over the summer, Brown is preparing to embark on an ambitious plan to double research activity over the next five to seven years. In striving for this new level of excellence, Brown will elevate innovation in classrooms, continue to attract world-class faculty and the most talented students to Brown, stimulate the economy in Providence and Rhode Island, and further knowledge across the nation and world. Achieving these goals will require increases in library resources, research funding, administrative resources, computing infrastructure, facilities and faculty development, among other areas.
The draft “Operational Plan for Growing the Research Enterprise” is currently open for comment from the Brown community, and forums for feedback will take place this fall before the University finalizes this plan. In parallel, the University has engaged a consultant to assess Brown’s research infrastructure to ensure a strong foundation for these plans. Findings will be shared at the October faculty meeting. Brown also has initiated the architect selection process and begun a programming assessment for a state-of-the-art Integrated Life Sciences Building in the Jewelry District that will provide an interdisciplinary space for faculty and student researchers in biology, medicine, brain science, bioengineering, public health and other disciplines.
The pandemic taught us many lessons about how we can improve our approach to teaching, research, residential life and campus operations. Provost Richard M. Locke, along with faculty colleagues and administrators, continues to lead efforts to develop ways to expand innovative and rigorous online and hybrid education. This effort also includes expanding experiential learning offerings and developing best-in-class career programming that will support students’ transitions to impactful careers that better the nation and the world.
Community Engagement and the College Access Initiative
As I shared with the campus earlier this week, Brown is committed to making a positive impact and deepening its relationship with the Providence and Rhode Island communities. Over the past year, the University has engaged in conversations with local leaders and community organizations to explore how to best advance these relationships. As one of the results of these efforts, we announced that Mary Jo Callan, or MJ as she is known on campus, will take on the elevated role of vice president for community engagement while continuing to serve as the Stark Family Executive Director of the Howard R. Swearer Center for Public Service. One of MJ’s first tasks will be developing a team who will work with her, as well as the Office of Government and Community Relations, to build on the many existing campus outreach and engagement efforts that support the local community.
Last year, we announced plans for the development of a college access initiative for Providence public schools. In dialogue with local stakeholders, the University is making progress toward design and implementation with the goal of having the program operational for the summer of 2024.
Diversity and Inclusion
The U.S. Supreme Court will soon hear two cases that challenge the use of race and ethnicity in college admissions. Because of the profound importance of student body diversity in strengthening educational experiences, pursuing innovation across fields and disciplines, and being active and engaged citizens, Brown joined with 14 other colleges and universities over the summer in an amicus brief supporting race-conscious admissions decisions
A continued priority this year will be advancing the goals in Phase II of Brown’s Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan. We will also continue to work to implement the actions arising from the Task Force on Anti-Black Racism. Plans include extensive renovations to Churchill House, home to the Department of Africana Studies and Rites and Reason Theatre, which began this summer with expected completion in Fall 2023. We remain committed to ensuring we develop and support a community of individuals from a wide range of backgrounds and life experiences.
The Future of Work
The University recognizes the importance of flexible work arrangements and continues to evaluate the efficacy of these arrangements and their role in making Brown a choice employer. Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Sarah Latham is leading a task force charged with the developing the necessary framework, tools, and training programs to ensure that employees and supervisors have structures and resources that enable them to fulfill their work responsibilities at the highest levels, regardless of whether work is being performed in-person, in hybrid form, or fully remotely. More information on these efforts will be shared in the coming months.
Athletics and Recreation
Brown continues to work to advance excellence in athletics and recreation. This includes improving the competitiveness of varsity athletics and enhancing the strength of club sports, as well as improving recreational opportunities that play an important role in our students’ health and wellbeing. Vice President for Athletics and Recreation M. Grace Calhoun has led a strategic planning process, and a strategic plan for the division will be shared with the community in the coming months.
I’ll conclude by wishing you a great start to the fall semester. This will be an exciting year as we continue to build knowledge and understanding in service to the world, value diverse perspectives, and work to support our local community. I continue to be honored to serve Brown and this wonderful community, and I look forward to all that we will accomplish together in the weeks and months to come.
Christina H. Paxson