Brown-RISD dual degree to begin fall 2008

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A new Brown-Rhode Island School of Design joint degree program, which will award students a bachelor’s degree from Brown and a bachelor of fine arts degree from RISD, is now accepting applications for the fall of 2008.

The five-year program has been approved by the governing boards, trustees and faculties of both schools and will officially come into existence later this month when both schools’ presidents sign a legal document.

Previous efforts to create such a program could not reconcile the schools’ different schedules ­- the universities’ terms start and end at different times, and RISD has a short winter term in between its fall and spring terms. To solve this problem, students will alternate semesters between the two schools, living and taking classes at only one school at a time to avoid having to juggle the two universities’ different schedules.

Dual-degree candidates will spend their first year at RISD to complete the freshman foundation requirements. Students may then spend any semester on either campus, as long as their five years are ultimately split evenly between both schools.

For the next five years ­- the pilot phase of the degree program – a maximum of 20 students will enroll in each class. At the end of that period, administrators will re-evaluate and decide whether to expand the program. Currently, the program only accepts first-year students, not transfers.

Each dual-degree candidate will have two advisers, one from each university. While they can select concentrations in any area, Brown-RISD students must complete at least one concentration at each school. Students will declare concentrations after their third year – as opposed to Brown students, who must declare after their second years – and will receive concentration advisers then.

“Someone could major in, for example, industrial design with an emphasis on sciences from Brown. Some students may be preparing themselves to be doctors and could study design elements of the human body and use visual training to become really extraordinary doctors,” said RISD President Roger Mandle. “I could imagine someone developing a whole new approach to space exploration. … To me, (these possibilities) are one of the most interesting aspects of this.”

Applicants must be accepted by both schools’ admission offices, as well as into the program itself. Admission officers from Brown and RISD have been speaking to students around the country about the program. “They’re going to find us,” Mandle said of the dual-degree applicants. “When the word gets out, when we promote this in the way we hope to, we will attract the kind of students we seek.”

For now, students will not be allowed to transfer into the program. “The most controversial thing is that we did not want to allow transfers into the program until we know how the whole thing works. … We wanted to see how it would work from ‘go’ on,” said Roger Mayer, who recently retired as a professor of visual arts and modern culture and media at Brown and is a member of the working group.

Mayer added that he personally wanted to admit transfers into the program. “Many students have said they wished they had known about (the program),” Mayer added. “In the future, I’m pretty sure that an accommodation will be made for students to transfer into the


Shelley Stephenson, an assistant provost at Brown who has been involved with the program’s development, said she expected transfers to be admitted at some point. “We want to know that the program will run well and efficiently before we open it to a broader population,” she said.

Though the program was unanimously approved by the faculties of both universities, Mayer said some RISD faculty members initially expressed concern.

“There was a feeling among the liberal arts division of the faculty at RISD that the students there will be drawn away to Brown,” Mayer said, adding that faculty teaching freshman foundation courses worried that the joint degree students might strain resources.

Mandle said this faculty hesitation was “just preliminary jitters,” but added, “I don’t discount them.”

Mandle said he is not worried about extra students in freshman foundation studies, noting that RISD faced an enrollment surplus this year and, in response, added another section to the course.

“The practical problems will come up, and we’ll just solve them one at a time,” Mandle said.

Stephenson said the universities’ faculties are looking forward to increased contact with each other. “I think that any strengthening of ties between Brown and its neighbor RISD is good,” she said.

Mayer, who said he has tried for years to help create a Brown-RISD joint degree, said his dreams have finally come to fruition. “This group of administrators was finally all interested, so everything came together,” Mayer said.

Mandle agreed. “President Simmons and I have a very warm and collegial relationship. Ruth has proven herself to be a real ‘do-er,’ and the stars have aligned with the faculty members involved,” he said.

“Brown and RISD have reached this historic moment when we are actually weaving together our academic programs for some great students,” Mandle said. “There is nothing else like it anywhere.”