University News

Candidates for UCS president answer your questions

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Readers sent in questions via email and Twitter to ask candidates for UCS president at the UCS/UFB Candidate Debate, which The Herald co-sponsored last Thursday. Due to time constraints, not all questions could be answered during the debate. The candidates have since submitted their answers to the Herald via an online document.

 

The Herald: The Corporation will vote in May on whether to pilot an executive master’s program for mid-year professionals. Some have argued that this will raise money and expand Brown’s educational work, while others have argued it have lower academic standards compared to current undergraduate and graduate programs. If approved, the program will be reviewed after three years to see if others should be implemented as well. What is your stance on the issue of developing an executive masters program?

Anthony White ’13: This February, the Corporation approved a budget that featured a $9 million deficit that had to be filled with funds. In such a climate, additional revenue is key, especially as we continue to work on improving the financial aid budget. That is why the executive master’s program can be a valuable means of increasing the Brown budget and making sure that we have the money to fund financial aid, capital projects, and changes to student life. However, this pilot program must be observed for its limits. Too many executive programs would dilute our name and hurt the reputation of our rigor. Thus, we should have a limited number of high-quality, rigorous programs in the pilot program, and if they prove to be favorable, we should keep that limited number of programs. If not, we should look for other revenue streams that will not compromise academics at Brown.

David Rattner ’13: Firstly, I believe that the only benefit these programs provide is increased revenue. I don’t believe that they expand Brown’s educational work in a meaningful or exceptionally beneficial way. Furthermore, I think that in addition to the concerns about such a program diluting Brown’s name and not having acceptable academic standards, it should also be discussed if this program would violate Brown’s charter. However, before I make a final decision on whether or not I personally approve of the program, I’d need to learn more about what exactly would be offered and how the program would work.

Rob Bentlyewski ’13: I do not personally feel that starting an executive master’s program would be detrimental to the University enough to speak out against it. It would bring in a large amount of new capital to the University that could be used to help Brown expand financial aid, better maintain University property, increase funding of student groups, etc. If the University were to contribute even $100,000 of the money brought in by our new program to student groups’ funding, that would drastically increase the amount distributed to our clubs and give them the ability to achieve a lot more than they already do. There is a concern that our academic reputation could be compromised if we started such a program on our campus, but with our students constantly earning Rhodes Scholarships, national awards and achieving other unbelievable feats, we are in no danger of ever being thought of as less than an incredible school.

 

What do you think of the University’s expansion of its graduate programs?

AW: The expansion of graduate programs is essential to the development of research at Brown and the continued rise in reputation of Brown University. Top-notch graduate programs will bring great scholars and researchers to Brown that will not only provide reputation, but will provide incredible graduate scholars to serve as resources for undergraduates. Also, Brown University’s Graduate School participation in the minority attrition rates and completion rates study of doctoral students from underrepresented groups in the life, physical and social sciences is vital. Because, with expansion of the graduate programs, we also should simultaneously work to diversify the academy and ensure that students are learning from numerous perspectives and having a wealth of experiences. Lastly, with the expansion of the graduate program, we must ensure that the undergraduate program remains at the core of Brown’s academics. The more research opportunities that open for graduate students, the more that should open for undergraduate students. If we are striving for reputation in research and scholarship, we should make sure our largest group of scholars (undergraduates) are also engaged in this process.

DR: Let me begin by saying that I think the discussion around this issue has been refreshing. It’s great to see that there’s honest concern on this campus about these issues. I don’t personally believe in the dichotomy of graduate program vs. undergraduate program. I think the two can coexist and thrive together. However, I never want to see Brown lose its focus on the undergraduate experience. Certain institutional controls exist that allows us to ensure that this won’t happen: Brown is one of just a few universities that mandates that all professors teach undergraduate courses, and one of the few of our size that doesn’t have separate graduate and undergraduate faculties. This means that the same professors teach across the programs, which I think is an invaluable benefit to the University. Expanding the graduate program brings the school more money from outside sources and allows us to enhance programs such as UTRAs which are a great opportunity for undergrads. Moreover, because this school is so undergraduate focused, improving our research profile allows undergrads to take part in incredible research opportunities. I believe that the ways and the extent to which the graduate program has been expanded in recent years has been good for Brown, but I’d be wary about continuing to expand it much further.

RB: Brown’s undergraduate program is so incredible that it is easy to forget some of the great things that our grad students do. Without graduate students, much of the research done in our science labs would be impossible. This research gives a large percentage of undergraduates invaluable experience working in a lab setting while simultaneously helping to make real, important discoveries in the sciences. Also, we have some graduate programs that are particularly outstanding and attract some of the world’s most talented students to our campus; our neuroscience and solid mechanics engineering programs are the first that come to mind. I believe that expanding our graduate school would have an overall positive effect for Brown and would improve the experience of undergraduates by creating a larger and more diverse academic community.

 

Do you think the university-college model applies to Brown today? How should this model influence projects Brown undertakes, if at all?

AW: I believe it does – the undergraduate community continues to be the largest constituency on campus, and undergraduate teaching remains a critical focal point of the faculty culture, especially in tenure. Simultaneously, we are a research institution that is making cutting-edge discoveries and continues to command the respect of the larger academy. Yet, true to the university-college model, undergraduates are often involved in research, are making discoveries, and are publishing alongside scholars three times their age. Without a doubt, this model should influence Brown’s conduct of projects in that we must assure that in progress, we do not lose our core. We should move forward, but undergraduate students must not be left behind, and we must not compromise the teaching quality on our campus. In short, project development must assure that the University does not sever the college.

DR: Yes, I do believe it does. When Henry Wriston used that term to describe Brown, he put into words the educational model that Brown had been employing for decades. I would encourage the administration to continue using this term as a model for how Brown should operate. Broadly speaking, “university-college” means that Brown is a school with the resources of a large university and the undergraduate focus of a liberal arts college. Not only do I believe this still perfectly describes Brown’s offerings as an educational institution, but also it should be the lens through which we view Brown in regards to our expansion.

RB: I believe that the university-college model still applies to Brown today, and rightfully so. Some of our graduate programs have earned international reputations for being outstanding, and they have been very important both in expanding what Brown is capable of accomplishing as a whole and improving our academic reputation. We should not shy away from expanding our graduate school, but only so far that it will not overstretch the faculty to the point that it is detrimental to the undergrads. Only after it is clear that the University has large enough of a staff and budget that expanding the graduate programs would have no negative effect on the college, I would not support the change at all. With an undergraduate program as unique and reputable as ours, we must make sure to maintain the integrity of what we have.

 

What do you think of offering gender-neutral housing for first-years and expanding gender-neutral housing for upperclassman?

AW: This semester, I co-sponsored a resolution in support of gender-neutral housing for first-years because the way I see it is that all students should be comfortable in their housing arrangements and that we as the Brown community have an obligation to meet this need due to our historic commitment to freedom of choice and experience and our commitment to being welcoming to all students chosen to enter Brown. Further, we need to assure that gender-neutral options expand for upperclassmen, keeping with our commitment to allow students to be architects of their own experiences and assuring that we provide housing that accommodates all students, no matter their living preference.

DR: I am in support of it, and I voted for the UCS statement encouraging the school to expand the gender-neutral housing offerings.

RB: I personally believe that gender-neutral housing should be more of an option for any Brown student – freshman through senior. If someone is not comfortable rooming with a student of the same sex, it must be torturous for him or her to have to deal with that discomfort all the way from September to May. Call me a liberal, but I think people should be able to decide what makes them happiest and then have the right to go pursue it. Now, I understand that this is a complicated issue and that the University cannot just start haphazardly throwing together roommates of different sexes, but I think we should definitely start working on getting this done in the near future. If we truly want to be a “progressive” or “equal opportunity” university, we need to make sure that every student has the same access to a satisfactory quality of life. No one should feel out of place here at Brown.

 

How do you intend to support LGBTQ students if elected?

AW: Primarily, I will install a liaison program that would allow UCS general body members to provide input on numerous issues, based on their involvement in other student groups. This would include students involved in Queer Alliance and its several sub-groups as well as other progressive groups. In this way, I could support LGBTQ students better by being informed about concerns and goals of LGBTQ students and then acting to address these concerns and work on these goals. Also, I plan to work with the campus LGBTQ office to ensure that programs hosted have the maximum impact as well as encourage more allies to come to these events and serve as a support network for LGBTQ students on Brown’s campus.

DR: Brown has done a great job of making sure that underrepresented or misrepresented communities have a safe place to express themselves and make their voices heard. I fully intend to continue this work as UCS President. It is the job of the President to represent all 6,000 students that call Brown home. I will do my best to represent the concerns of all Brown undergrads. Particularly, in regard to LGBTQ students, I have reached out to QA during this election season and next year I plan to work with them and the LGBTQ resources center to insure that their concerns are my concerns. For the most part, I believe Brown is at the forefront among our peers in regards to supporting LGBTQ students, and I’m proud of that. I would encourage the school to continue expanding this support.

RB: The one way I would support Brown’s LGBTQ students is to help keep ROTC off of Brown’s campus. Don’t get me wrong, I have total respect for the members of our military and those who plan on enlisting. In fact, two of the most intelligent and talented students I have met at Brown served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan before coming to Brown, and I have the privilege to call those students personal friends and teammates of mine. But Brown cannot support any institution that is inherently discriminatory towards transgender Americans. This is the only way that we can show our disapproval of large-scale hateful bias like this is to refuse to connect ourselves to this institution at all. While it truly is unfortunate that Brown students interested in joining ROTC must trek across town to PC and dedicate inordinately large amounts of time to the program because of it, we as a school must voice our disapproval of institutionalized hate.

 

Aside from financial aid, what is one long-term initiative you would like to start if elected president?

AW: I would like to work on increasing faculty diversity. This past semester, I have conducted an investigation on the hiring of faculty of color at Brown. In my two concentrations, political science and history, 9 percent and 11 percent of the faculty are faculty of color, respectively. In 2011, 19 percent of the entire faculty was of color, far from representative of the over 33 percent of students that specifically identify as students of color. Yet beyond representativeness, this is an issue that limits the kinds of experiences, perspective and scholar expertise available to students. In my investigation, I determined that the Dean of the Faculty’s Target of Opportunity program (the locating and potential hiring of qualified faculty outside of a search) has been essential to moving toward diversifying the faculty. However, departments have been slow to act and for some scholars of color, certain departments have been inhospitable, prompting candidates to take other offers. That is why I want to work to put pressure on departments to continue searches for diverse faculty, hold departments accountable based on their faculty of color numbers, displaying how hospitable these departments are, and continue to demand more student voice in hiring decisions and tenure decisions.

DR: The student activities endowment. I believe that in order to achieve this goal first and foremost we must work to convince the administration of the importance of student activities in the collegiate experience. The Provost recently rejected our push to have the student activities endowment included as a priority in Advancement. I will not accept this as an answer, and I will not let this diminish my drive to see this endowment raised.
It is still a priority of UCS. As President, I would try to establish a Student Activities Foundation (just as we have a Sports Foundation), which would be comprised of alumni willing to work to raise funds on behalf of student activities here at Brown, and I have been pushing to increase undergraduate representation on the University Resources Committee. Finally, I have been working with Chancellor Emeritus Stephen Robert to help raise this endowment, and as President I will continue to do so.

RB: One long-term initiative I plan on starting is what I have tentatively named the Providence Collegiate Student Council. I met with the president-elect of Providence College, Justin Gomes, and talked with him about how Providence students can have a stronger influence over our schools’ interactions with the city. What we came up with was a council comprised of a representative of each school that would meet to discussing the pressing issue of the times. They would each present how their respective student bodies feel about the issue, and the council would decide on a single position that best suits the collective students of Providence and the city itself. The representatives would then inform their student governments what position was decided on, and they would all lobby their schools’ administrations with the same argument. The voice of a united Brown student body can be very loud, but the voice of a united Providence could be even louder. With every student government lobbying the same position, we could hold more sway and have a better chance of actually affecting University decision-making. Other schools in Providence have expressed interest in this idea in past years, so this would be running early next fall.

 

You all seem to agree on many of the issues addressed in your campaigns. What will make you most effective as UCS president?

AW: Definitely the breadth of my experience will make me most effective. I have served as a leader in a student group, Brown Democrats, in roles that required me to interact with high-level officials, be a strong fundraiser, and communicate effectively with supporters and the larger public. Further, I have taken on the task of co-founding a student group, Brown for Financial Aid, specifically participating in the writing a report on the state of financial aid to set up the framework to improve financial aid at Brown. Lastly, I have served for three years on UCS, served as a representative for student groups, helping categorize and re-categorize dozens of student groups while also providing advice on securing additional funding from the university and putting on successful events to many other groups. Further, I have served as Chief of Staff to the UCS President, standing in for her in meetings with administrators and meeting separately with administrators to advance projects such as the student advocate program, hiring of faculty of color, and the student activities endowment. These experiences will make me an effective UCS President that knows how to work within the university bureaucracy, but also intimately understands the student group experience.

DR: My experience. In my time as Vice President and Campus Life Chair I’ve cultivated and fostered great working relationships with administrators in the University. Because I’ve been a part of these high-level discussions, as President I would be able to continue these conversations, and no time would be wasted catching up with what’s already underway and learning about the progress that’s already been made. I would be able to hit the ground running and ensure that UCS is working effectively and productively on behalf of all Brown students. Brown will have a new President next year, and with my service on the Presidential Search Committee I’ve already developed a relationship with President-Elect Paxson. As President of UCS I would leverage this relationship for the betterment of undergraduate students. Moreover, I’ve now seen three UCS presidents operate, and two of them while serving on E-Board with them. I’ve seen what allows a President to succeed and what doesn’t. I’ve internalized these lessons, and I would use them to my benefit as President.

RB: What will make me the most effective of the current candidates is the structural change I plan on enacting once elected. In yesterday’s Herald (April 16th), a writer in the opinion column called our UCS “irrelevant.” This is not an unpopular view on campus at all – in fact, it seems to be the most common view. The only way to create a cultural shift on Brown’s campus large enough to win over the silent overwhelming majority of students who don’t attend UCS meetings is to give them something completely new and start over. No personnel change within the current system will ever realistically earn the respect of this campus. By rewriting the UCS constitution and creating a new structure entirely – comprised of twelve elected officials representing each class in the format of a senate – the student government will have a chance to turn the page and forget that we ever became this out of touch with the students. With a new incoming University President and our 250th anniversary approaching in 2014, when could be a better time to start something new? Rather than ignore the glaring failures, let’s face the facts: Change is essential.

 

Questions for Bentlyewski specifically:

Do you know what it takes to change the UCS constitution? How do you plan on getting your suggested structural changes passed?

RB: I have of course researched exactly what must be done in order to re-write the UCS constitution. I could not present this idea to the student body in good conscience unless I was 100 percent sure that it would be both feasible and beneficial to carry out. In case anyone else is wondering how it works, here’s the rigmarole: First, I would spend the summer drafting a new constitution with the other newly-elected members of UCS and UFB, asking for input from anyone else who could have a valuable perspective as well. Then, we would bring the new constitution back to campus in September and spend the first few weeks of school getting input from as many students as possible to see if it will properly suit the needs of the student body. After the finishing touches have been put on it, there will be a referendum held to get the approval of the student body. Considering that few students consider themselves to be die-hard lovers of the current UCS structure and my election would be indicative that the students are ready for a change, I am sure the requisite two-thirds majority will be attained.

If you are interested in making UCS better, why have you never attended a UCS meeting?

RB: Like most students, I never attended a UCS meeting in my first three years at Brown because I never felt that the UCS was capable of effecting any real change and that time spent at one of their meetings would be time wasted. My goal isn’t just to make UCS better; I want to help the students of Brown University feel like they have some agency in what goes on at this school, and I think changing their apparently broken student government would be a great way to contribute. It seems that whoever asked this question doesn’t believe that I actually care about making a change and instead have some ulterior motive for running. Well, I’m surely not a “resume-padder” or else I would have started getting student government titles put on my resume from my first semester here. I can’t be doing this for kicks because this process is so grueling and public that it’s impossible to keep up with unless you’re truly driven. Ask anyone who’s done it. I don’t care if what I’m doing looks crazy on paper; I see a way that I can help Brown and I’m damn sure going to give it a shot.