University News

Forum opens campus discussion on redevelopment

Growth in the Jewelry District must account for varied student academic interests, the planning VP said

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, March 21, 2013

Flexible and accessible classroom space, graduate student facilities and expansion into the Jewelry District were among the most salient issues addressed by Russell Carey ’91 MA’06, executive vice president for planning and policy, in an open discussion about strategic planning Wednesday afternoon. 

About 25 attendees gathered in List Art Center to hear Carey’s presentation regarding the Committee on Reimagining the Brown Campus and Community’s findings published in its January interim report. Carey then opened the floor for attendees to voice their opinions and concerns about the committee’s future plans.

Carey said the committee is focused on determining “the academic and space needs for the University for the next decade” to decide how to fulfill the University’s academic mission in the most effective manner.

In its planning efforts, the committee will look to prioritize expanding facilities for the School of Engineering and the Brown Institute for Brain Science, Carey said. Until these departments are expanded, they are very limited in their research opportunities, he said.

A recent analysis revealed that students enroll in varied courses. This exploration of interdisciplinary interests complicates the University’s planning for future use of the Jewelry District, Carey said. Most departments are currently located within a 10-minute walking radius of the Main Green, and moving any department off College Hill would “impede students’ ability to make class enrollment choices freely, which is something we do not want to do,” Carey said.

The data was compiled by Sasaki Associates and mapped the networks of departments with overlapping student enrollments, Carey said. As students progress in their undergraduate paths and declare concentrations, they might be expected to focus on a few key areas of interest, but the data suggest “areas become, if anything, even more connected,” he said. While certain departments, such as computer science, tend to be a bit more isolated, “the map shows a tremendous number of connections across the entire curriculum,” he said.

The committee polled faculty members to incorporate their needs into the report and found that “the strongest academic collaborations were within departments,” Carey said. He displayed a campus map that showed that physical science buildings were the most closely concentrated on campus, followed by the social sciences. The humanities and arts departments were the most dispersed across campus.

Current classroom space received the most unsatisfactory ratings from students who responded to the MyCampus survey, Carey said.

“Most of what we’ve seen in the data is affirming what we already knew,” he said. In the report, the committee already listed the need for more flexible classroom space as a pressing concern, but multipurpose space is a complex issue, Carey said.

“The more flexible space is, the more compromises you make for it to aptly fit a specific department’s needs,” he said, specifically referencing discussed construction of a concert hall for the Department of Music.

A graduate student expressed his concern about facilities, another issue the interim report prioritized in the discussion following Carey’s presentation.

Graduate students in most departments say they need more space to work, hold office hours and establish a community, Carey said, referencing committee meetings focused on gathering student opinions. While the University cannot realistically fix the facilities of all its doctoral programs within the next 10 years, Carey said, he hopes coming projects will moderately improve graduate student conditions.

Attendees brought the issue of handicapped student accessibility to the forefront of the discussion. Carey expressed concern about Wilson Hall, a building currently inaccessible for handicapped students, but members of the audience pointed to other buildings, like Sayles Hall and the Marty and Perry Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, that also limit disabled students. In terms of accessibility, “there is definite room for improvement,” Carey said.

One audience member said Brown’s beautiful and historic buildings are among its greatest assets, and the University should focus on preserving them while improving their functionality.