University News

Paxson to revise plan after student input

The president said she will include student advising and the term ‘university-college’

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, October 3, 2013

In response to concerns from the community, President Christina Paxson will revise her strategic plan to include both an explicit commitment to advising and an acknowledgement of the University’s mission statement.

Responding to student and faculty feedback, President Christina Paxson said at an open forum Wednesday she will revise her strategic plan to use the term “university-college” and explicitly commit to advising.

The forum was part of the Undergraduate Council of Students’ weekly general body meeting.

Paxson’s move indicates the strength of campus response to the plan — she  previously said she would not revise the draft of the plan unless community feedback illuminated components that needed to be significantly rehauled.

Since its Sept. 18 release, the draft of the strategic plan — a document expected to shape Paxson’s agenda over the next decade — has drawn criticism from students over the absence of advising.

“I know there was some concern about the lack of discussing advising in the plan,” Paxson said at the beginning of the meeting. “This doesn’t reflect that we think it’s unimportant. I would be happy to note it as we move forward with plans.”

Paxson said she thinks improving advising is important, also noting its inclusion as a goal in former President Ruth Simmons’ Plan for Academic Enrichment.

“I assumed implicitly that (advising) was important,” Paxson told The Herald after the meeting, adding that she will insert a passage about advising into the text of the plan.

Paxson also said she will rework the plan to incorporate the University’s mission statement. The statement includes the term “university-college,” a phrase coined by former President Henry Wriston to describe a university that combines a focus on undergraduates and a liberal education with the structures of a research university.

Students expressed concern at an open forum Sept. 24 and at last week’s UCS general body meeting that the plan’s omission of the phrase signaled the University is losing sight of its commitment to undergraduates. Faculty members also voiced worries at Tuesday’s faculty meeting that the phrase’s absence signifies a shift in the University’s mission.

Paxson said she will put the mission statement with the “university-college” label in a prominent place under the plan’s title, “Building on Distinction.”

“There was no intention to reject that phrase,” Paxson said. “I came to Brown because I loved the fact that it has this amazing undergraduate education that’s integrated into this research university.”

Students also expressed worry Wednesday night about the plan’s call to grow the student body and faculty over the next decade, and Paxson has since specified that she would like to see both grow at a roughly 1 percent annual rate. At least 80 students — a mixture of Council members and other students — attended the meeting.

Ian Cossentino ’17 said he is worried that increasing the student body size would “change the small campus feel we have.”

“I think Brown would be better if it were a little smaller,” said Sam Rubinstein ’17.

Paxson said the proposed increase in the size of student body would be less than the growth the University has seen over the last 10 to 12 years — a trend she said has come without negative consequences.

“The thing I worry about, and we’ll have to pay attention to, is when you (grow the student body), you have to grow everything,” Paxson added. “We can’t just cram more students into classrooms.”

Students also voiced apprehension about what some viewed as the plan’s feeble dedication to improving financial aid.

Alex Mechanick ’15, president of Brown for Financial Aid, said he thinks the strategic plan espouses a weak commitment to financial aid.

Though the PAE called for the University to implement full need-blind admission, this goal was not realized by the end of Simmons’ tenure, and the strategic plan does not offer a clear timeline for achieving it.

Paxson said making the University a fully need-blind institution is still a goal, but “we’re in an economic environment where I feel uncomfortable putting a time limit on it.”

“But you don’t have to commit to it in 10 years to take meaningful action,” said Daniel Moraff ’14, a Herald opinions columnist.

Paxson said in response that she has been traveling extensively to raise funds that could go toward financial aid. She added that she recognizes the importance of implementing need-blind admission for international applicants, given her past experience at Princeton, where she saw the effects of that university’s decision to go need-blind.

In the wide-ranging conversation, other students asked questions about topics including faculty diversity, mental health, environmental sustainability, expansion to the Jewelry District, graduate education and focus on different disciplinary areas.

In response to a question about the plan’s recommendation to emphasize data literacy for undergraduates, Paxson clarified that she did not intend or envision a new curricular requirement.

The Council also appointed Aditya Kumar ’17 and Kevin Chen ’15 to the Campus Safety Task Force and Kumar to the Public Safety Oversight Committee.

UCS President Todd Harris ’14.5 also announced that the annual UCS Fall Poll will be released to the undergraduate student body by email next week.

  • Plato

    None of these changes mean anything. Sure, she’s going to put them into the plan now, but that’s to just placate the campus into feeling like they have a voice. If adding advising and university college are an afterthought – everything else in this plan has a tactical plan on how it will be implemented. Don’t fool yourself into thinking this means she’s committing to doing something about it. You can finish a strategic plan, add something, and then say you have a plan for it. You don’t – that’s the whole point!