Editorials

Editorial: Preserving the core of Brown

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

This past week, The Herald has run a four-part series — “Launching a Legacy?” — exploring the influences shaping President Christina Paxson’s recently approved strategic plan and how the plan, entitled “Building on Distinction: A New Plan for Brown,” will affect the University’s trajectory over the next decade and beyond. The final article, running today, questions how Brown’s undergraduate core will fare as the graduate program continues to garner increased attention and funding. We believe stronger graduate programs are not necessarily mutually exclusive with maintaining and expanding Brown’s excellent undergraduate education, but we are certain that as Building on Distinction is implemented, more can be done to reward and prioritize student and faculty commitments to Brown’s undergraduate core.

Tenure reforms implemented under former President Ruth Simmons have not attracted much student attention, but they have changed the incentives of faculty members, many of whom feel pressured to pursue research perhaps at the expense of their teaching responsibilties. One of the wonderful opportunities present at Brown is the option to take courses with professors renowned in their fields and able to present their research to their students. But these courses, as they now exist, are often most successful when taught at a higher level. As was indicated in the plan, there is a need for improved introductory education, particularly in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. Though introductory level science classes may not be as headline-generating as upper-level seminars taught by professors who discovered the mechanisms in question, the latter cannot exist without the former, and the administration should provide resources for faculty members who want to take either path.

Last month, The Herald reported that part of the implementation of the strategic plan would include “post-tenure sabbatical policy, changes to the academic calendar and streamlined research reporting procedures” — initiatives that appear to be focused entirely on research. Alongside these changes, we would urge specific allowances to be set aside for faculty members who wish to pursue curricular improvements or reform. We would also be opposed to any further changes to the tenure process that would emphasize research over teaching.

Many of us chose to attend Brown because we sought the opportunity to receive college-level liberal arts teaching while benefiting from the increased resources that characterize large research institutions. It is evident that the recent strategic plan was created with the aim of emphasizing the latter part of the equation, but we cannot overemphasize the extent to which we value the first. Even researchers pursuing the highest levels of scientific inquiry require a strong undergraduate foundation to build upon. Brown’s historical commitment to undergraduate education is both the intellectual and emotional root of this institution. The education that one receives here as an undergraduate can catalyze later study and drive the course and purpose of one’s life. Brown will certainly continue to expand, but we do believe it is possible to preserve its core — the College — and we hope this principle will be respected.

While Building on Distinction will be associated with Paxson, just as the Plan for Academic Enrichment remains connected with Simmons, the two plans articulate virtually the same vision and are ideologically continuous. Taken together, the two envision an institution that differs incredibly from the Brown of the past. Students may feel that the plan doesn’t affect them directly, but we all have an investment in the future of the institution. Organizations such as the Brown Conversation provide a welcome opportunity for students to voice their thoughts on Brown’s course. We urge students to attend these events — and have conversations of their own — and we hope Paxson and the administration will take note of these student-driven recommendations.

 

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editor, Rachel Occhiogrosso, and its members, Daniel Jeon, Hannah Loewentheil and Thomas Nath. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.

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