Columns, Opinions

Miller ’19: Why not Brown?

By
staff Columnist
Monday, March 6, 2017

Since President Christina Paxson P’19 announced her Building on Distinction plan in 2013, the administration has had to negotiate how it will reconcile its long-term strategy with our university-college model. Here is one suggestion: Brown should reinvigorate its long dormant effort to expand and create graduate professional schools. Brown, along with Princeton and Dartmouth, remains one of the only schools in the Ivy League without a law school, while Princeton and Brown are the only two without a business school. The remaining Ivy League schools collectively enroll thousands of students in some of the finest graduate and post-graduate professional programs in the country. Why not Brown?

There are several factors that explain the absence of more professional schools at Brown. These include former University President Henry Wriston’s opposition to professional schools, a narrow interpretation of the college charter and its definition of a liberal arts education and Brown’s focus on the undergraduate experience. The cost, physical space and diversion of administrative energy are also major constraints.

But in the 21st century, it is anachronistic to view professional schools, including law schools and business schools, as trade schools rather than extensions of a liberal arts education. Indeed, many would argue they are a natural culmination of that education. Not everyone needs to love or even appreciate these fields of study, but the presence of these schools on campus will undoubtedly encourage the cross-pollination of ideas — a value entirely consistent with a liberal arts education. In this way, every student at Brown may benefit from exposure to the same knowledge and platforms offered by Brown’s Ivy League counterparts with professional schools. With such schools, Brown will only be better positioned to further its mission and attract a new generation of graduate students and faculty.

This is why Brown should focus its long-term energy on creating and expanding its graduate program to include professional degrees. It would be inconceivable to produce a high-quality professional school in a matter of years, but Brown should consider factoring this into its long-term vision. Other U.S. schools have implemented similar large-scale expansions despite the effort, expense and risk. These universities have been rewarded with additional revenue that outweighs the short-term costs, providing a useful model for Brown’s future.  Brown must start somewhere: The snowball cannot begin to run without a deliberate push forward.    

Brown’s College Charter does not discourage professional graduate schools and, in fact, supports them. The charter charges the University’s Trustees and Fellows “to found a College or University … for promoting liberal arts and universal literature.” Graduate professional studies like law or business emphasize universal literature and align with the goals of a liberal arts model. Professional schools would not only train future professionals and executives, but also further legal jurisprudence and corporate responsibility, improving the lives of individuals and communities nationwide.

The idea of establishing a new graduate school within the University is not unprecedented. Brown’s Alpert Medical School was founded in 1975, a fairly recent event in the annals of academic history. Alpert has seen success, attracting funding and new applicants to Brown. In its short life, it has been acclaimed as one of the best medical schools  in the United States, enhancing Brown’s reputation while providing  resources and staff to local hospitals serving the region. In 2013, research conducted by the faculty and the clinical departments of Alpert attracted $280 million in external funding. Alpert has allowed students interested in medicine to participate firsthand in medical research, thereby enhancing the pre-medical experience. The number of pre-medical applications to Brown has risen since the medical school was created, and we can likely attribute this to the fount of knowledge and access created by Alpert.

Brown has already begun to redefine its university-college model with its School of Professional Studies and the addition of the School of Public Health in 2013. Dean of the School of Public Health Terrie Wetle said during the School of Public Health’s inception that it would serve as a “recruitment magnet” and appeal to the highest quality of graduate students and faculty.  The addition of other professional schools would serve a similar purpose.

Brown’s unique political climate and highly motivated student body present an ideal setting for the learning opportunities provided by professional schools. Brown’s mission states that the University should serve “the community, the nation and the world by discovering, communicating and preserving knowledge and understanding in a spirit of free inquiry, and by educating and preparing students to discharge the offices of life with usefulness and reputation.” Wouldn’t an expansion of our professional schools do just that?

Emily Miller ’19 can be reached at emily_miller@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.