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Ingber ’15: Don’t move engineering downtown

By
Opinions Columnist

There is little to no chance that I will take an actual engineering class at Brown. In fact, I struggled as a sophomore to find Barus and Holley for my first ENGN 0090: “Management of Industrial and Nonprofit Organization” lecture last fall. Engineering as a whole is extremely foreign to me, and I can only appreciate from a distance all of the important work engineers do. But eating at the Sharpe Refectory with a good friend after my history class and his biomedical engineering class is a treat — I get to see how different minds work and how groups of friends at Brown can be so academically diverse. This is why I was disheartened to read in The Herald that Brown’s administration was considering moving the School of Engineering down to the Jewelry District.

After reading the article (“Expanding engineering school considers off-campus space,” Jan. 30), I was sympathetic to the desire to revamp engineering facilities and expand the department. I cannot speak to the current quality of engineering resources at Barus and Holley, but I totally understand the natural desire to seek more space and superior technology. Brown has the oldest engineering program in the Ivy League, and that breeds a strong sense of pride. I get that. But moving downtown is not the answer. In fact, I believe the strength of Brown’s engineers stems from their integration with the campus as a whole. Having the ability to easily jump from a chemical engineering class to one in art history provides opportunities for diversified course loads and academic experiences.

Moving parts of an undergraduate department to the Jewelry district is fundamentally incompatible with Brown’s academic philosophy and the New Curriculum. The essence of the New Curriculum is predicated on the idea that students should feel free to explore various disciplines and subjects, both inside and outside of their comfort zones. By physically separating a significant percentage of Brown students, solely based on their course of study, the University would be strongly discouraging engineers from taking a diverse array of classes and virtually prohibiting humanities students from trying their hands at more technical classes. This is oppositional to the Brown mindset and inhibits Brown’s educational goal to encourage students to try new things — not because they need to fulfill requirements but because they choose to do so on their own.

Furthermore, we must not create further divides by creating the “college” system many of our sister Ivy League schools, such as Penn and Columbia, currently employ. Under this divisive college blueprint, students are labeled, both academically and socially, by which college they are a part of. This is detrimental to both the social cohesion and exchange of ideas at Brown. The discussion of cybersecurity, for example, is exceptionally enhanced when shared by computer engineers and political science concentrators alike. Further isolating engineering students will significantly decrease the communication across disciplines. I am not suggesting Brown will soon have various colleges with different admissions criteria, but any sort of divisiveness between academic fields is detrimental to Brown’s explorative culture.

Also hinted at in the Herald article was how the move downtown would affect professor-student relationships. Brown’s faculty prides itself on being incredibly accessible to undergraduates for both research opportunities and general advice. Imagine if your engineering professor’s office hours were all the way downtown. Would you go? I certainly would be far less inclined to trek down, especially if there was lousy weather. A Jewelry District engineering building would undoubtedly separate professors from engineering students. Why should engineering students be at a disadvantage when it comes to building working rapports with professors?

It is for these reasons that I humbly recommend that Brown’s administration make plans to revitalize the School of Engineering on College Hill itself. I know developable land remains at a premium, but I am sure there are creative ways to establish more engineering spaces. Engineering absolutely deserves plenty of investment, but we should remember that there must not be any barriers preventing each Brown student from being the architect or engineer of his or her own education. Some might say that this recommendation further encapsulates Brown on College Hill, isolating it from the rest of Providence. In fact, I am okay with this — preserving the Brown community by maintaining close proximity amongst students and faculty will actually allow us to better integrate with the city through better dialogue and debate.

As a history concentrator, I am not going to pretend to know the resources needed for a stellar engineering program. I don’t know much about nanotechnology or chemical isotopes. But I do know that my friends who know about these subjects consider themselves Brown students first and engineers second. Moving to the Jewelry District would strip them of the ability to make that distinction. To me, that seems pretty unfair.

 

 

Zach Ingber ’15 would like a nice engineering student to give him a tour of Barus and Holley. He can be reached at zachary_ingber@brown.edu

  • anonymous

    Not to mention the exorbitant cost. Good points.

  • anon

    As I understand it, classes themselves would always remain on main campus. But would these concerns persist even if it were only research facilities that were moved downtown?

    I’d have to agree. It would still make it too difficult for undergraduates to interact with their professors and to participate in research. There is, however, a demand for improved facilities and equipment. It’s a tough issue.

    • Lauren

      There are already biology and biochemistry labs in the Jewelry district, at the 70 Ship St. location, which means some professors hold their office hours there (and students who do research there must coordinate their class schedules to allow time to get down the hill). Just wanted to point out that this is an issue that some students already deal with.

  • The fact than many non-engineers already struggle to find B&H should be evidence that the engineering school is already less integrated into the rest of campus than many other departments. Moving the building even further away would be devastating to the brown engineering undergraduate community and program.

    I am an engineering student who came to brown precisely because the facilities were so integrated with the campus. I would not have chosen brown if the department had been split because i wanted to be a “brown student who studied engineering” not an “engineering student who studied at brown.” This is not a subtle difference, it is integral to my choice of education and, I would guess, the choice that many of my peers made when they decided on brown.

    Even if classes remain on campus, professors *won’t* if all the lab space is downtown. Engineering professors now are the definition of accessible: in their labs or officies with the doors open from before all of us are awake until after 5 or 6pm (i’ve seen professors leaving as late as 1130pm). The undergraduate engineering education would be woefully incomplete without this sort of access to professors, lab spaces and the entirety of the engineering community.

    thank you, zach, for voicing your opinion. It is reassuring to know other concentrators support keeping engineering on college hill.

  • Jack

    They could build a monorail (monorail!) between the undergrad campus and the jewelry district to ease transportation. Ideally they would then move other departments downtown as well, and work to delineate schedules that would ideally fit the distance and travel time.

    The medical school is already there, and already suffers from the separation this article speaks of – they seem to get along well enough, and spreading more of the university to different areas (with adequate transportation – monorail!) may serve to benefit more than hinder the spread of ideas. Change isn’t a bad thing if it’s developed properly…with a monorail.

    • BH

      While we’re at it, we should grab the empty Rt-195 land for a unicorn farm.

      • CHOOCHOO

        Actually, there were serious plans for a closed circuit trolley/light rail.

        • BH

          To be paid for by the businesses along the route. Because, you know, businesses in RI have piles money falling out the doors when customers come in.

      • Jack

        Brown would be the only school in the Ivy League with a unicorn farm. Clearly this should be on the agenda.

    • Lauren

      Maybe most people aren’t aware, but while there is no monorail, there is a shuttle system that goes from campus down to the Jewelry District and to Rhode Island Hospital. This shuttle tries to bridge the gap between these sites and College Hill, but it is inadequate, particularly for students who do research in the Brown buildings in the Jewelry District and must regularly come into their lab on the weekends, when the shuttle service does not run.

  • Josiah

    Why is it SUCH a hassle for Brown students to make the 5 minute trek down the hill? It’s like walking from Pembroke to the Ratty. The divide is nothing more than psychological.

    • Jill

      Agreed. People who take Public Health classes in 121 South Main don’t complain and that is a trek, especially from Pembroke.

  • J M

    Really? Is it THAT hard to find B&H? It’s on Brook Street, which is literally adjacent to Thayer.

    • J M

      At any rate, yeah, I do agree that that engineering shouldn’t be moved downtown if at all possible.