Dear Brown Community,

Earlier today, I testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) to help inform Congress about the complex issues at stake for Brown and other institutions of higher education as we consider resuming on-campus operations during the pandemic. I want to share with our community the core elements of my testimony as I advocated for ongoing government support of higher education.

But first, echoing the statement from Brown’s senior leadership over the weekend, I want to say again that I feel sadness and anger for the ongoing pain, hurt and frustration that so many in our community and across the country continue to endure as this nation confronts anti-black racism and ongoing issues of racial injustice. We continue to make plans to activate voices across the University community to help effect change.

The events of the past week underscore the importance of restoring our academic communities so we can continue to do so much important work together, including promoting equity and justice.

This morning, at a hearing titled “COVID-19: Going Back to College Safely,” I was one of three presidents asked to share the challenges and implications of decisions college and university leaders across the country are making about reopening our campuses. I was glad to be able to help build understanding among our country’s leaders of the complicated decisions we are confronting, and the important role of state and federal governments in supporting schools to ensure we can open our campuses safely.

I made it clear in my remarks that we will not compromise safety to bring our students back. The decisions we are making every day are focused on the health and well-being of students and employees. This means developing sound, science-based public health plans for our campuses.

As I shared with our community in early May, Brown is engaged in deep and extensive planning to determine the best path to resuming education and research this fall. We are making steady progress toward announcing a decision on resuming on-campus operations no later than July 15.

Brown is well positioned to realign operations for education and research to address the realities of the coronavirus pandemic. However, I shared with the Senate committee in my remarks and submitted written testimony that all institutions need the support of our federal government to gain the capacity to develop public health plans that build on three basic elements of controlling the spread of infection: test, trace and separate.

At Brown, as part of our scenario planning, we are in the process of developing plans with the following features in the event that it is safe to have students and employees return to campus in the fall:

  • Testing of all students and employees upon return to campus, testing for all symptomatic students and employees, and random testing of asymptomatic members of the community to monitor levels of infection over time
  • Traditional and technology-enabled contact tracing capacity, developed in close coordination with the Rhode Island Department of Health, so that the spread of any infection on campus can be quickly stemmed
  • Residence halls that are “de-densified” so that students have single rooms and there are fewer students per shared bathroom, plus suitable dormitory space set aside for isolation and quarantine
  • Classrooms, libraries and dining halls that are reconfigured to enable social distancing, and additional investments in cleaning and supplies for appropriate hygiene
  • Large lecture courses that are converted to “flipped” mode, so that students watch the lecture online, and gather together in smaller recitation or problem-solving sessions with their instructor
  • The development of a robust public health education campaign, so that students understand what they need to do to keep themselves, their classmates, faculty, staff and community members healthy.

We know students at Brown and at schools nationwide are eager to come back to campus. Across the country, many say they may delay getting their degrees if they can’t return. That would be terrible for students and for the communities that would benefit from their talent and contributions.

No campus should open if it can’t do so safely — or if they choose not to do so — but today, Brown was among institutions representing the position that so much is at stake if schools cannot resume operations that the national government should continue to make resources and guidance for higher education a priority.

I expressed support for students, especially those most adversely affected by the pandemic. I shared with the HELP Committee that, in addition to support for public health plans, schools need support for financial aid. Brown and other schools collectively will spend tens of billions of dollars on aid for students whose parents have lost their jobs and may be unable to return to school without emergency assistance. I expressed my conviction that DACA and undocumented students, as well as veterans, should be eligible for any federal financial support.

I also testified about the need for emergency support for research that has been adversely affected by the pandemic. This includes funding for grant and contract extensions, facilities support, and postdoctoral and graduate student fellowships.

Nationally, a great deal of federally-funded research is languishing on the bench. Our researchers have been in the labs doing COVID-19-related work throughout the spring, but every research institution needs to be able to continue important work in such areas as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and new energy technologies.

My full written testimony is available on the Office of the President website. I was pleased that Brown could advocate on behalf of institutions of higher education — for the sake of research and innovation; the cities and states that rely heavily on institutions as major economic drivers; and especially and most importantly for the sake of our students.


Christina H. Paxson