University News

BUCC reviews strategic plans

Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Discussing the possibility of the University and its peer institutions developing online education programs, Richard Bungiro, lecturer in biology, likened the process to taking a leap into a swimming pool.

“We’re all worried  about how cold the water is, and we’re wondering who’s going to jump in first,” Bungiro said. 

“MIT jumped in the pool a while ago,” said Professor Emeritus of Chemistry James Baird. “Stanford, Harvard … We’d better jump in fast.”

Chairpersons of four strategic planning committees created to guide President Christina Paxson’s long-term goals for the University presented new committee updates in areas including online education, educational innovation and faculty expansion during the Brown University Community Council meeting Tuesday. 

Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron gave a report from the Educational Innovation Committee, discussing the committee’s work identifying and supporting innovative programs within the University. Bergeron said the University is in talks with the Swearer Center for Public Service to create programs to better integrate public service with academics.

“We began taking up some of their ideas for larger initiative and engaged scholarship at Brown,” she said. Though details were sparse, Bergeron also spoke about the committee’s investigation of international education, developing the Program in Liberal Medical Education and promoting diversity. Bergeron said that the committee will be presenting its full ideas at a later time.

“We think that by the end of the semester we will have a cluster of very good ideas that we can put forward,” she said. “Our plan was to bring forward a series of things that we can add on to what Brown does very well.”

University Librarian and Chair of the Committee on Online Teaching and Learning Harriette Hemmasi spoke about the committee’s exploration of new ideas related to expanding the University’s presence in the world of internet-based education.

“This could be a very lazy committee,” Hemmasi said. “If we just turn on the TV or radio every day we could be bombarded with new information about online teaching and online learning.”

The committee is trying to ask and answer unsolved questions about online education and what it means in a changing digital environment, Hemmasi said. 

“(We’re) looking at the connection between Brown’s open curriculum, what Brown thinks of as distinguishing itself and the principles of open education,” Hemmasi said. “What’s our responsibility to educate people locally as well as globally, and do we actually have a responsibility in the larger realm?”

In response to Baird’s concerns that a large-scale online teaching environment makes it difficult for instructors to keep track of their students’ progress, Bergeron said many of the online platforms allow professors to interact with their students in meaningful ways through collaborative discussion forums. She shared the story of a Princeton instructor who taught her first online class. The teacher started with Baird’s same worries, Bergeron said, but those fears were quickly erased.

“Peering into those discussion groups, she got a better sense of what students were thinking about these concepts than she was getting from her Princeton undergraduates,” she said.

The council discussed the possibility of flipping the traditional lecture-homework paradigm using online videos as well as opening up courses to Providence community members who then would also be able to meet regularly with faculty due to their close proximity to Brown.

“All of us are in the Wild West together,” Hemmasi said. “At the same time we’re riding around on our horses, we’re trying to get the cattle going in the same direction. That’s what makes it so exciting – we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to help shape it.”

Russell Carey, executive vice president for planning and policy and chair of the committee charged with reimagining the Brown campus and community, spoke about the University’s work trying to reconcile the physical separation between College Hill and Jewelry District campuses and “looking into how those two areas can be as seamless as possible.”

Carey said the University has purchased parking spots on Olive and Benevolent Streets. The University will also turn 250 Jewelry District spaces “essentially into a Brown parking lot,” he said.

Dean of the Faculty Kevin McLaughlin P’12 presented the work of the Committee on Faculty Recruitment, Career Development and Retention. 

“What kind of community is the Brown faculty going to be?” he said. “One of the things that is often said at Brown and about Brown by the faculty is that there is something that makes Brown special. That specialness is what we need to get a better description of and a better understanding of.”

McLaughlin spoke about attempting to increase diversity among faculty as well as the possibility of offering non-monetary incentives such as a tuition benefit for faculty members who have children enrolled at Brown or at other universities.

“We did see a significant variance between Brown and its peers” in tuition benefits, McLaughlin said. “With the exception of Harvard, which offers nothing, the benefit is significantly lesser at Brown than it is at its peers.”

Several current students expressed disappointment that the faculty committee does not have any undergraduate representatives, in contrast to the other strategic planning committees.

“There are a ton of students who I feel would be so interested in voicing their concerns,” said BUCC member Marisabel Agosto ’13.

Undergraduate Council of Students President Anthony White ’13 said after the meeting that though he was “content” with the work of the strategic planning committees, he shared Agosto’s concerns.

“More could be done, especially with the faculty committee,” White said. “I think it’s going to produce some substantial and valuable changes … but I think it could be better.” 

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