Letters to the Editor

Letter: Brown still committed to undergrad experience

By
Wednesday, October 19, 2016

To the Editor:

Duncan Weinstein’s ’17 assessment (“Weinstein ’17: Brown decides to chase its ‘peers,’” Oct. 12) of Brown’s significant assets is right on: We have exceptional faculty, a stunning campus and a curriculum that attracts intellectually independent students driven to explore across disciplinary boundaries to advance knowledge. Together with our graduate programs, the Alpert Medical School and the Schools of Engineering, Public Health and Professional Studies, we offer a vibrant academic community — one that we are committed to cultivating. “Building on Distinction” outlines our plans for solidifying Brown’s unparalleled undergraduate program while enhancing its excellence and contributions through research and graduate education — and doing so in a fiscally sustainable way. These goals are not mutually exclusive and in fact are deeply intertwined.

At the recent faculty meeting, I outlined our approach to achieving our ambitions in a challenging global economic context. What I presented calls for limiting the growth of the undergraduate student body to maintain a highly personalized, largely residential learning environment, maintaining our current commitment to need-blind admission and meeting the demonstrated financial need of all students admitted to Brown. These initiatives are driven not by our budget, but rather by an appreciation for our excellent undergraduate educational experience and our efforts to strengthen this experience.

We also proposed limited and targeted growth in graduate programs — growth that, again, is aligned with the University’s academic priorities and commitment to excellence. Our proposal calls for a short-term slowing of faculty growth, and for maintaining our commitment to being an employer of choice, providing competitive salaries and benefits so that we can continue to attract and retain the most talented faculty and staff to the University. Finally, in an effort to ensure the long-term financial health of the University, we discussed preserving (and growing) the endowment by both increasing fundraising and reducing the annual withdrawal rate over time from the current 5.5 percent to 4.5 percent by fiscal year 2021.

Through a series of proposals, we are seeking to enhance educational excellence on a campus that values outstanding research, teaching and service while increasing the endowment over time to reduce the University’s heavy reliance on tuition and fees as a source of revenue. And while the writer suggests that to balance the budget we could simply forego certain capital projects, like the new Engineering School building, it is important to note that improving our physical infrastructure is central to enhancing the excellence of our academic programs, and these projects are actually supported not through the operating budget, but through gifts to the University that cannot be simply shifted to a different use.

One last point: The headline of the column states “Brown decides to chase its ‘peers.’” By benchmarking against other leading universities when developing our own plans, we seek to study best practices and to try to learn from them, when it makes sense, to achieve our goal of making Brown’s truly distinctive approach to higher education even stronger. In fact, everything we are doing is focused on strengthening Brown as a university — for undergraduates and all members of our community.

Richard Locke P’17

Provost