University News

At inaugural meeting, Paxson outlines goals to faculty

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 5, 2012

President Christina Paxson introduced some of her broad goals for the first year of her presidency during Tuesday’s faculty meeting, the first of the academic year. Plans to improve financial aid and strengthen the University’s resources figured prominently in the priorities she outlined.

Making Brown affordable was a central theme to Paxson’s first meeting. 

“Financial aid is very important,” Paxson said, adding that it’s “something we need to keep pushing on.”

Provost Mark Schlissel P’15 emphasized that the University should continue to be “accessible to the full breadth of potential students.” He sympathized with student initiatives calling for the end of need-aware admission for transfer, resumed undergraduate and international students, but conceded there is a “tremendous opportunity cost” of making all admissions need-blind. 

While Paxson said there are “a lot of exciting things on the table” in her administration’s planning process, calling it an “opportunity to chart the future of Brown for the next decade and beyond,” many of the goals brought up at the meeting focused on expanding existing institutions and initiatives. Schlissel recounted that when Paxson came to campus for the first time, she told him that the University seemed in “pretty good shape.” As the University is not in the midst of any major crisis, “it’s not a good time for a revolution,” Schlissel said.

Paxson said the three major themes underlying her administration’s plans for Brown are excellence, innovation and service. One goal is to ensure that faculty have the resources necessary to continue to achieve excellence, she said. Under the Plan for Academic Enrichment, a cornerstone of former President Ruth Simmons’ tenure, and the Campaign for Academic Enrichment fundraising campaign, the University has grown stronger throughout the past decade, Paxson said, but “the resources we need for great research haven’t quite caught up to” the growth of the faculty. 

Paxson and Schlissel brought up innovation in the context of the New Curriculum. Now is “a great time to take a hard look at that,” Paxson said, “not overturning it,” but considering ways to build on it and integrate global experiences. 

Paxson also addressed the University’s identity and direction, arguing that though many universities “have given up on undergraduate education” in favor of research, Brown has shown it is possible to excel at both. In addition, Paxson said the University wants to develop programs to serve the public good – “that came out very clearly” in conversations with faculty, she said.

A repeated theme was the need to effectively implement technological advances in education. Paxson expressed hope that, as the University becomes more dispersed spatially, technology will maintain the sense of community that she said balances the University’s characteristics of independence and innovation. Bill Warren, professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences, asked Paxson and Schlissel how they foresee the University responding to the increasing presence of online education. “We need to approach it somewhat cautiously,” Paxson said, describing it as a platform “to enhance what we have.” One idea she described was to use an online course to connect students in different places of the world at the same time. Schlissel added that the University will be joining Coursera, a for-profit online class initiative that includes universities like Stanford University and Princeton.

Schlissel acknowledged the recent controversy around the closing of the Taft Avenue Daycare Center, calling it “a huge disruption” for the families involved. He added that the University “worked hard to mitigate” the consequences of the closure,  noting that a committee on the subject was formed during the summer.

The Humanities Initiative, a project started in 2010 to promote the study of humanities, recently allocated over $100,000 in grants, said Kevin McLaughlin P’12, dean of the faculty. In addition, two outside professors will come to Brown during the academic year as a part of the initiative – Andrew Laird, professor of classical literature at the University of Warwick, and Jennifer Gonzalez, associate professor of history of art and visual culture at the University of California at Santa Cruz. 

In light of the recent changes to tenure regulations, Mary Louise Gill, professor of philosophy and chair of the Faculty Executive Committee, brought up the FEC’s intention to clarify concerns about promotion regulations and the status of lecturers. McLaughlin shared statistics on newly recruited faculty. Of the 80 new faculty members, one-third are lecturers or senior lecturers, and of the tenured or tenure-track hires, one-third are tenured and two-thirds are on the tenure track. 

Other areas of focus mentioned were recruiting and retaining a diverse faculty, working with the Graduate Student Council and identifying spaces to renovate. 

  • Anonymous

    Closing Taft was not only a disruption for the families involved, but bad policy for the institution in general. It is sad and backward for the university to stop employees and students pursue productive scholarly and professional lives even when they have young children. The reality is that childcare in Providence is scarce and often unaffordable for graduate students and many staff members. Closing Taft eliminated the only childcare option whose mission was to serve the campus community, which adjusted tuition bills based on family income, and was accessible from campus even for those without a car. The decision puts many members of the campus community in a dire situation, including graduate students who need affordable childcare to finish dissertations in a timely manner, or new faculty members who don’t have months to look for childcare and spend on wait lists but have to hit the ground running in teaching and research as soon as they arrive in Providence. Such a step back in institutional policies really forces young parents, both men and women, to reassess whether they really can combine a career in academia with family life, despite the recent rhetoric on retaining talented people by making academia family-friendly.

  • Anonymous

    A “disruption for the families involved”? You don’t even have to set foot in a childcare center to support the idea of daycare for employees. As it is apparent in the hundreds of thoughtful comments left by the 1700 petition signers, it is possible to have reasonable and rational arguments for maintaining Brown’s own daycare that specifically serves the campus without actually utilizing it yourself. You can find a selection of those comments at parentsatbrown dot wordpress dot com. Lots of department chairs who hire faculty, undergraduate students who are taught by parents, staff members who work with parents wrote that is affects _their_ work if their mentors, students, and colleagues can’t find child care.