University News

Paxson draws on U. history, welcomes new provost

Administrators encourage students to embrace controversial discussions in Convocation speeches

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 3, 2014

First-years march through the Van Wickle Gates as part of the University’s 251st opening Convocation Tuesday. “Build your community, build your friendships and make time for your fellow students,” said Provost Vicki Colvin.

A new generation of first-years marched through the Van Wickle Gates and onto the Main Green to mark the start of Brown’s 251st academic year yesterday afternoon.

President Christina Paxson kicked off the ceremony, declaring the academic year officially in swing and inviting applause for the students joining College Hill this fall: 125 medical school students, 679 master’s and doctoral students, four Resumed Undergraduate Education scholars, 51 transfer students and 1,562 first-years.

Paxson highlighted changes in the makeup of the University’s curriculum and student body over its 250-year history, noting that today’s Brown offers greater academic freedom to a much more diverse group of individuals than those who attended the College in 1765.

In contrast, a constant over the last two and a half centuries has been the University’s culture, which has always been relatively tolerant and supportive of intellectual freedom, Paxson said. But she also acknowleged the University’s initial ties to the slave trade, adding that a slavery memorial will be erected on the Quiet Green later this year so that the University’s connections to slavery will not be forgotten.

Paxson concluded her address by calling on students to embrace discussions about divisive issues, noting the intense conversations on campus last year about climate change, sexual assault and police treatment of people of color.

“At times, you will and should feel very uncomfortable,” Paxson said.

Her remarks were similar to those made by then-President Ruth Simmons in 2001, who urged students to preserve each other’s right to express unpopular opinions, adding that “learning at its best is the antithesis of comfort.”

Paxson then turned the microphone over to new Provost Vicki Colvin, whom Paxson described as a good fit for the University based on Colvin’s willingness to take part in uncomfortable discussions.

“I cherish controversy,” Colvin told Paxson in an interview, Paxson said.

Colvin’s address was centered on three pieces of advice.

“Build your community, build your friendships and make time for your fellow students,” Colvin said, adding that friends are an important investment that can help broaden one’s perspectives.

Colvin then turned to academics, advising students to take advantage of the Open Curriculum by exploring a broad range of subjects. Colvin added that she took too many science and math courses in college and underestimated the value of dabbling in classes and activities that did not clearly provide preparation for her career path as a chemist.

“I don’t think anyone here is just going to take science or humanities classes,” said Josh Greene ’18, adding that Colvin’s suggestion of exploring many different subjects captured the spirit of Brown students.

Lastly, Colvin remarked on the title of her speech, “Fresh Eyes,” urging students to question their professors’ assertions and not to let past generations’ failures diminish their optimism.

“You see the world and its possibilities with fresh eyes,” Colvin said, adding that students will “need to stay just a little bit naive” in order to confront the world’s problems.

  • justin ’03

    “hi, i’m a silicon valley guy, we need to change everything, just because. here’s my stump speech, tailored (sort of) for this article. bla bla bloviate bla bla. if you disagree with me, YOU’RE the problem. thank you.”

    • Lep Kat

      Nah…don’t change a goddamned thing. Who cares if the place is screwed up, as long as these adolescent numbnuts get what they want, and as long as the criminal-minded administrators get to keep their gravy-train careers?

  • Silc Rue

    Goddamn it, Chris Paxson. Rape on campus is a matter for YOUR action, not for other people’s discussion. Keep up with this dillydallying and somebody will sue you personally. It is just amazing. Two years and you are as flaky as they come.

  • Peter Farmhouse

    A new provost and a new dean are meant as learning resources for students. Chris Paxson abuses the privilege of her position by using the new members to save her own arse due to her protection of campus rapists. It is not possible anyway for anybody to save her. Anybody who try will put their own arses on a sling too.