With a nod to 1969, Brown commences celebration of the Open Curriculum at 50

Brown leaders invited the campus community to use the year ahead as an opportunity to critically reflect on the University’s defining educational philosophy.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — With music, student performances and food inspired by the 1960s setting the scene, more than 3,200 members of the Brown community turned out on the College Green on Tuesday, May 7, to launch a yearlong celebration of the University’s distinctive Open Curriculum, which turns 50 this year.

“Today marks the beginning of a 12-month community exploration of the Open Curriculum, which is our distinctive calling card, our student-centered, purpose-driven approach to educating all students,” said Brown President Christina Paxson in welcoming community members to the event.

Paxson noted that on the same date 50 years ago, hundreds of students gathered in the same spot to listen to a live broadcast of Brown faculty members deliberating on multiple changes to academic policy that would form the basis of what was then called the New Curriculum.

“It looked a lot like today… but without any food,” Paxson quipped.

Those changes, explained Dean of the College Rashid Zia in his remarks on Tuesday, included the elimination of a distributed set of course requirements and the creation of a satisfactory/no credit grading option. Both aimed to enable Brown undergraduates to freely and intentionally navigate their individual academic journeys.

What would prove even more critical to establishing the Open Curriculum, Zia said, was a statement of principles written jointly by students and faculty on May 8, 1969, to define the purpose of education at Brown. These principles — which note both the individual responsibility of students for their own education and the centrality of the faculty-student relationship — are enshrined in Brown’s faculty rules and regulations and continue to guide the Open Curriculum today.

“The students were demanding a higher purpose, a greater set of principles that would define education at Brown,” Zia said. “This philosophy highlights the learning of individual students, requires their active participation and relies on a community of faculty, staff and fellow students to make this possible.”

In the coming year, a series of events and milestones, from First Readings and Opening Convocation for new students, to Commencement and Reunion for new graduates and alumni, will offer opportunities for the Brown community to engage in a celebration and exploration of the Open Curriculum. As plans are finalized, those events will be detailed on a new Open Curriculum at 50 website that Brown launched on Tuesday.

Zia said his office will facilitate opportunities for both reflective and forward-looking conversations about how the University continues to live out its underlying philosophy of education and how these principles still set high standards for the Brown community to aspire to.

“A purpose-driven, student-focused curriculum must continue to be a living dynamic entity,” he said. “And it must change and adapt with our student body and the world in which we live, and all of you here are central to this process… Please join us next year as we celebrate, reflect upon and continue to advance this distinctive, hopeful approach to higher education.”