University News

Corporation members discuss priorities, outlook for tough times

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, October 19, 2009

The Corporation convened its first meeting of the academic year this weekend, welcoming 12 new members and approving designs for two major capital projects, including a new Medical Education Building in downtown Providence.

About a year after the financial crisis slashed $740 million from the University’s endowment, prompting officials to seek long-term budget reductions totaling approximately $90 million, Brown’s highest governing body focused on maintaining “forward momentum” and accomplishing the goals outlined by the Plan for Academic Enrichment, said Chancellor Thomas Tisch ’76.

The Corporation approved designs for the new Medical Education Building in Providence’s Jewelry District and authorized a new model for a combined aquatics and fitness center on the site of the former Smith Swim Center. Tisch said the Corporation also discussed the design for the new Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts and renovations to the Metcalf Chemistry and Research Laboratory into a new brain science building.

The Corporation made no other major announcements. Tisch said the board will discuss detailed budgetary issues at its next meeting in February.

“This is generally not a meeting of spectacular action points,” Tisch said. “A large part of the meeting was animated by gaining perspective on forces of the last couple of years.”

“It was a very constructive meeting,” he added. “I would describe the overall tone as reflection, challenge, opportunity and optimism.”

Tisch said he was pleased with the direction of the capital projects given the economic situation, which he said has forced the University to implement changes including renovating existing buildings instead of constructing new spaces and waiting to approve construction until funding for new projects is collected in full.

“In relation to what it would have been a year ago, the projects are done on a much more responsible and prudent basis,” Tisch said. “The new construction has now been reformulated wonderfully.”

Overall, Tisch said new capital projects are focused on creating new spaces in the heart of campus — or “filling in the hole in the doughnut.”

According to an e-mail sent by President Ruth Simmons to the Brown community Saturday, the Corporation also received an update from architect Frances Halsband on a planning study of the Jewelry District. The expansion, highlighting Brown’s aggressive push into the downtown area, is spearheaded by the renovation of an historic building at 222 Richmond Street for the new Alpert Medical School building, Tisch said.

“What it reflects is that fields of knowledge expand,” Tisch said about the University’s development plans. “It’s an engine of opportunity.”

In addition to extensive discussion regarding the University’s major construction projects, Tisch said the meetings were marked by “a dynamic of new fresh faces and fresh voices,” which he said resulted from a “bumper crop of new members.” The Corporation welcomed three new fellows and nine new trustees. Lauren Kolodny ’08 was sworn in as the first-ever young alum trustee, a position which the Corporation created in May.

The Corporation also approved the idea to combine the planned Jonathan Nelson ’77 Fitness Center and a new pool in one facility. The University will now move on to the design stage of the project, said Richard Spies, executive vice president for planning and senior adviser to the president.

“We are really optimistic,” he said. “A lot of hard work was done to find a way to achieve most of the objectives of the project.”

Combining the two projects will save the University about $25 million.

The Corporation heard a number of suggestions and questions about the project’s specific design elements, Spies said.

“There are compromises that get made, and working through those takes time,” he said. “But the main objective was to start the process.”

The Corporation also accepted a slew of donations totaling nearly $20 million for various projects, including a $3 million gift for a new endowed professorship called the Intrepid Heroes Professorship in Orthopaedic Surgery at the medical school.

The funds were donated by Diane Weiss — a “friend of the University,” according to Ronald Vanden Dorpel MA’71, senior vice president for University advancement — to support wounded veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and to help them get functional prosthetic limbs.

“She’s a grateful patient,” Vanden Dorpel said.

Three of the accepted gifts were from overseas, he said, including one from a donor in Europe and two from donors in Asia. The international gifts “demonstrate the fact that we are reaching out to overseas alumni and parents,” he said. “It was a good bunch of gifts.”

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