In an article published in The Herald last week (“Expanding engineering school considers off-campus space”), students raised well-founded concerns about the impact of expanding the School of Engineering down College Hill into the Jewelry District, a move currently under discussion by University administrators.
We do not oppose constructing new buildings — indeed, Barus and Holley, where engineering is housed, is in drastic need of renovations. But we urge the University to reflect on the consequences such a move could have on Brown’s undergraduate community and academic environment. In expanding the School of Engineering, administrators must consider and address these valid concerns to preserve the academic spirit that defines Brown.
A new building downtown would be logistically frustrating, both for scheduling classes and for developing relationships between students and professors. Undergraduates are simply not equipped to travel so far from College Hill and its dormitories while pursuing other on-campus activities throughout the day. Even if the building were to only host graduate-level seminars, juniors and seniors looking to push themselves in the engineering department would still sometimes enroll in these and would thus be forced to make a trek to get to class.
This problem would extend to any professors with offices in the new building. How often would students go to office hours if their professors were more than a 20-minute walk away? Or if they prioritized these professors and their classes, what would they have to sacrifice in order to travel to those important sessions? As engineering student Emily Toomey ’15 told The Herald last week, “Accessibility is a huge thing that Brown offers.” We cannot let such a significant aspect of our education slip away.
Most egregiously, this kind of move could easily undermine the very ideals of Brown’s academic cornerstone, the New Curriculum. The entire undergraduate experience is centered on the ideal of broad ranges of experiences — of students being given the reins of their own education and control over their own academic and intellectual destinies.
Placing classes and professors far from main campus essentially creates yet another premium on the free time of engineering concentrators, limiting their experiences and likely their choice of classes to those that are local and convenient. This physical divide in disciplines is simply unacceptable if we truly believe the ideals of the New Curriculum should stand for every undergraduate student, regardless of concentration.
Only off-campus students and those able to pay for parking permits around campus have access to cars, and not all students have the money for bikes or other similar non-automotive forms of transportation. An express bus route, like the one used by Alpert Medical School students housed on College Hill, could help mitigate the effects a geographic divide could have.
Still, the fact remains that a building in the Jewelry District is just not the same as having a building for work, communication and learning within walking distance of the undergraduate community and student dormitories. Any sort of expansion downtown must carefully consider and account for these issues and work to make the trip from College Hill as painless and accessible as possible, so that growing the School of Engineering adheres to and expounds upon Brown’s academic mission and student goals.
Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editor, Dan Jeon, and its members, Mintaka Angell, Samuel Choi, Nicholas Morley and Rachel Occhiogrosso. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.