University News

U. task force to consider optional January term

Faculty also discuss upcoming free speech motion, Navy ROTC addition at meeting

By
University News Editor
Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A task force will convene next semester to consider the implementation of a January academic term at the University, said Provost Vicki Colvin at a faculty meeting Tuesday.

Faculty members and administrators also discussed a new U.S. Navy ROTC partnership, a faculty motion on free speech and the merging of the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions with the Watson Institute for International Studies. Upcoming performing arts initiatives, the establishment of a new master’s program in Social Analysis and Research, the University’s faculty cohort tenure rates and the renaming of two institutes rounded out the meeting’s agenda.

The task force, chaired by Dean of the College Maud Mandel, will consider the creation of a “J-term” academic session in response to a report made by a working group comprising 10 administrators, Colvin said. The group formed in April to begin discussions about the feasibility of a winter session.

The proposed J-term, which would be an optional program for students to take courses or pursue opportunities outside the classroom, would run for five weeks, from the beginning of January to the beginning of February, pushing back the spring semester by approximately 10 days, Colvin said. With the addition of a J-term, the University’s academic calendar for January would coincide with that of the Rhode Island School of Design, which already has a J-term, making cross-registration easier between the two institutions.

The academic calendar has not been changed since 1984, when the current semester-based model was established, Colvin added. Prior to 1984, the holiday break divided the fall semester.

One issue with implementing a J-term is that it would push spring Commencement back to early June, Colvin said, adding that Commencement’s current placement during Memorial Day weekend is important to families and alums.

University Registrar Robert Fitzgerald, a member of the working group, said the implementation of a J-term would not affect the current week-long spring break but would necessitate the elimination of February’s long weekend.

Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Margaret Klawunn, also a member of the working group, raised the possibility that faculty members could use the J-term to finish teaching requirements and free up time during the regular semesters to focus on research. Graduate students could also take advantage of the J-term in this way, she added.

A J-term could “take the open curriculum into the 21st century,” Colvin told The Herald. She added that it is possible for the University to make a profit from enrollment fees in such a term, which could help finance the budget for financial aid.

Financial aid was a large concern for some faculty members, including Sheila Blumstein, professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences.

The J-term would not be included as a part of regular tuition for students and would be run much like the summer term, Colvin said. Financial aid to participate in the J-term is an important issue for the task force to address next semester, she added.

James Morone, chair of the Faculty Executive Committee and a professor of public policy, political science and urban studies, discussed faculty feedback to a report that proposed bringing a Naval ROTC program to Brown through a partnership with the College of the Holy Cross. Of the 25 pieces of commentary from faculty members that the FEC received about the Naval ROTC proposal, only one was negative, Morone said.

Philip Rosen, professor of modern culture and media, voiced his opposition to a Naval ROTC program based on the documented discrimination against transgender people in the U.S. military.

“This seems to go against every anti-discrimination policy that we have on record,” Rosen said. “In the report, it is indicated that there will be some kind of discussion on campus” about this discrimination, he added, expressing dissatisfaction with the University’s outline for campus discussion of the issue.

Professor of Biology Ken Miller ’70 P’02 said that given the current Army ROTC partnership that Brown has at Providence College, the Naval ROTC proposal is not controversial.

But Rosen said the faculty should discuss ways in which to push the national conversation on transgender discrimination by the military, noting that transgender individuals are allowed to serve openly in the militaries of other countries like those of the United Kingdom.

Morone also informed meeting attendees about an upcoming motion on free speech that a group of faculty members wrote and presented to the Faculty Executive Committee. Ross Cheit, professor of political science and public policy, was one of 20 faculty members to contribute to the motion and one of four to present it to the FEC, Cheit told The Herald.

“We wanted the faculty to endorse a strong statement” of the body’s views on freedom of expression, Cheit said. The motion evolved as a response to President Christina Paxson’s report last spring about the shutting down of former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s lecture after public protests.

The motion will be sent to the faculty before Christmas, and an endorsement of the motion will be voted on at February’s faculty meeting, Morone added.

The faculty passed a motion unanimously approving the merging of the Taubman Center and the Watson Institute, which will result in the newly formed Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy under the umbrella of the renamed Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.

“Back in the ’80s, when these centers were formed, people didn’t think” about the difficulties that having the two organizations on different ends of campus would cause, said Morone, who also serves as director of the Taubman Center.

Morone responded to several faculty members’ concerns about the current undergraduate and graduate programs in public policy, stating that neither will change as a result of the merger.

The faculty passed another motion unanimously to change the name of the Institute for the Study of Environment and Society to the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society.

Dov Sax, deputy director of the institute, said the name change of the recently created center is solely in response to the similarity in pronunciation of the acronym ISES to that of the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

“It’s just gotten to being a problem in talking to students and potential donors,” Sax said, adding that considering the fact that the institute is fairly new, the change to a less controversial name will not cause many logistical problems.

Meeting attendees also unanimously passed a motion to change the name of the Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences to the Brown Institute for Translational Science.

Michelle Cyr, professor of medicine and associate dean for academic affairs, proposed the name change along with Dean of Medicine and Biological Sciences Jack Elias. The new name will “reflect the expanded scope of the center since its establishment in 2009,” Cyr said.

Colvin and new Vice Provost for the Arts Michael Steinberg also presented to faculty members about upcoming plans to expand the performing arts on campus.

Under Steinberg’s leadership and supervision, the University will better “meld the arts and the liberal arts” based on “astonishing interest” among the student body, Colvin said.

After consulting with multiple firms and organizations, the University has identified a need for a venue that has the capacity to house a full 100-piece orchestra, Colvin said.

The Brown campus has a “unique advantage” with a high number of arts buildings in close proximity to residential areas, Colvin said, citing the fact that Stanford University had to build a new arts building far off campus to meet student demand.

But a “conventional performance hall” suitable for a full-sized orchestra is “hard to fit on College Hill,” Colvin said. The University has recently acquired two potential locations — an area adjacent to Thayer Street by Alumnae Hall and several old buildings on Brook Street on the far side of Pembroke campus — but neither location is really suitable for a proper performance hall, she said.

Steinberg will lead planning initiatives regarding renovations and an infrastructure plan, as well as expansion of academic programs for the arts.

The goal is not to “add small units, but to provide something that would” make a tangible impact on the arts at Brown, Steinberg said.

Bringing in more visiting professors and seeking out part-time appointments for faculty members in the arts is an important initiative for the University to undertake, he said. He added that he plans to establish a regular faculty lunch seminar on arts at the University and will reshape and expand the scope of the Creative Arts Council.

Dean of the Faculty Kevin McLaughlin P’12 also presented to the faculty about the recent decline in the cohort tenure rate, the share of tenure-track junior faculty members hired in the same academic year who gain tenure eight years later. The Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, is interested in the cohort tenure statistics as a reflection of Brown’s performance in attracting new faculty members, McLaughlin said.