University News

U.’s next decade surveyed in State of Brown

Paxson to prioritize faculty recruitment and postdoctoral programs but not online technology

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, March 6, 2014

President Christina Paxson spoke about an upcoming capital campaign, her longterm University goals as well as a wide range of other issues during the State of Brown address Wednesday.

About 150 students and faculty members attended the forum in Salomon 101, which was hosted by the Undergraduate Council of Students.

Paxson opened the talk by emphasizing her desire for dialogue. “I’m not going to give a speech,” she said, adding that though the lecture’s official title was the “State of Brown (address),” she thought of it as the “State of Brown conversation.”

As the strategic plan unfolds over the next decade, “I would like to see a significant and sustained increase in Brown’s stature as a leading university known for innovative research and education,” Paxson said. She added she envisions the University “making very large investments in people” over the next 10 years in the form of effective faculty recruitment, a focus on financial aid and growth of a “diverse” postdoctoral program.

Experimenting with online technology, such as Massive Open Online Courses, will not be a big priority for the University over this period, Paxson said. “It just doesn’t make sense for Brown.”

The Corporation laid out a capital campaign to finance these initiatives, which will be “very expensive — in the billons of dollars,” she said. “I’m excited about the potential to go out and pull the resources that we need to do great things.”

“It’s been a difficult year,” Paxson said, citing the controversy over both the Corporation’s decision against coal divestment and the canceled lecture by former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

“In other ways too, I’ve really loved this year,” she added. “It’s given me an opportunity to talk to students in a way that I never have before.”

After giving her introduction, Paxson opened up the conversation for a question-and-answer session in which  students could pose questions directly to Paxson and other administrators, including Margaret Klawunn, vice president for campus life and student services and acting dean of the College.

Alvina Pillai ’14 asked if there was a form that let students evaluate the performance of deans and support staff.

Such a form exists for staff members at Health Services, Klawunn said.

“I’d be happy to think about” creating a similar form applicable to staff members in offices such as Psychological Services, Paxson said.

Shefali Luthra ’14, former Herald editor-in-chief and president, asked Paxson to identify her “top finance priority” in the capital campaign and how she would advertise it “to alums who would be giving donations.” Paxson replied the capital campaign is still in its “quiet phase or nucleus phase” and “we don’t know how big this campaign is.”

“I think probably half of the campaign will be investments in people,” she said, including financial aid expansion, fellowship support for graduate students and endowed professorships. “The other half would be for programmatic needs, and then campus needs and facilities needs to support everything else we want to do,” she added.

Another issue brought up was the Corporation’s decision not to divest the University’s endowment from coal and fossil fuel companies. “Given the enormous role of the coal industry and its causing climate change, how do you think that our investments should reflect the goals that are listed in the strategic plan?” asked Tammy Jiang ’16, a member of Brown Divest Coal.

“The endowment is not meant to be used to express social or political views, to make statements or political gestures,” Paxson said in response. “Even though our investments in coal right now are miniscule,” putting restrictions on the endowment “limits our ability to access really good fund managers,” she said.

“Do you support student representatives on the Corporation?” asked Maggie Tennis ’14, a Herald opinions editor.

“There are students who are on search committees on a routine basis,” but adding student representatives to the Corporation would create issues of confidentiality and place pressure on the selected students, Paxson said, adding that young alumni trustee positions were recently added to the Corporation.

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  1. johnlonergan says:

    Christina, you’ve asked for input and dialogue. I’ve written you several times, and tried to arrange a meeting when you came to an alum gathering in San Francisco a few months back. We’ve received no response to date.

    So, here’s an open invitation, Christina. We Brown alumni in the San Francisco Bay Area would like to discuss true, root-and-branch change needed at Brown if Brown is to reduce its dependence on alumni hand-outs and sky-high tuition.

    We in San Francisco see change in higher education up-close and personally. We see KhanAcademy, Coursera, but also the relationship-building skills of Facebook (moved from the East Coast), Google, Apple, WhatsApp, Twitter, etc. We see so clearly the handwriting on the wall that business as usual at Brown is no longer a formula for a sustainable Brown in the future.

    We are pushing along three main themes:
    1. Educate millions of students around the world, from 8 to 80, not just the 1600 per year who must attend and be on the Brown campus. Charge for the privilege–we alumni are willing to pay a lot.
    2. Revolutionize student-teacher interaction at Brown by flipping the classroom, offering online education and social tools, and enhancing a Brown strength–the teachers’ love of teaching.
    3. Recruit Brown students from hundreds of millions of potential candidates–not just the 29000 who send their applications in over the transom (and 46% who are accepted decide not to attend).

    Christina, you no longer have an option of saying that digital tools are “not for us.” We alumni are sick and tired of being your ATM machine for failed education models. We’re exhausted by your 218 departments and 4500 employees, less than 2 students per employee. We’re gasping after paying one of the highest tuition rates in the world–over $56000 per year. We’re unimpressed by the poor education students are receiving–not just compared to Harvard or Stanford, but compared to world-class educational institutions like Google, Apple and KhanAcademy. Although the profs want to educate, they don’t have the tools, and the results aren’t being properly measured.

    Educational technology is whizzing by Brown at an alarming rate. Brown not only lags Harvard, MIT, Stanford, UPenn, UChicago and Berkeley. Brown is lagging even the state schools and “second-tier” institutions that don’t have the burden of a 250-year history and a sky-high budget.

    So, here’s your chance for dialogue, Christina. There are hundreds of us alums in the San Francisco Bay Area who are immersed in the new relationship culture. We thrive on upending old, tired models from banking to travel to the US Post Office to purchasing groceries and books.

    Brown’s relevance is disappearing as quickly as the US Post Office and Borders Books. We alumni don’t want to see Brown continue in this death spiral. We will not stand idly by as Brown spends “billions” on busted models that are no longer competitive in today’s education marketplace, that no longer serve students, faculty or the broader world. We will not put up with mediocrity, period.

    Christina, you have my telephone number and my e-mail address. You have our website: You know how to reach us. Let’s start a real dialogue about real change needed at Brown before it is too late.

    • Seriously? says:

      Because I’d be psyched to show everyone my degree from the prestigious Khan Academy.

      Dude, seriously, come up with solutions that match the problem. Paxson’s job isn’t to educate millions, it’s to make Brown as strong and far reaching an institution as it can within its role as a “university.” Google and Khan Academy are not universities. They don’t produce research and are obviously limited by the amount of student-teacher interaction available. So stop hating on actual colleges where students are asked to think and interact with each other, in favor of a model where students watch videos and are asked to memorize things.

      Now get a life and stop commenting on every BDH article.

      • johnlonergan says:

        I’m not the one changing the university game. Status quo for Brown is not an option. Making Brown “strong” is a laughable statement, as Brown’s competitive situation deteriorates every month.

        Brown can’t just subsist on being a “lesser Ivy League school.” You can listen to those in the change, or continue to bury your head in the sand. Believe me, it’s more fun to lead change than to be run over by it.

        Now, do you have anything to offer other than “status quo”? If not, you’re part of the problem. Man/woman up, and be part of the solution.

        • john toms '85 says:

          why the paranoia, friend? where is this death spiral you speak of? obviously change is an inevitable part if life but i don’t see any red blinking lights here.

          • johnlonergan says:

            Nor did Blackberry, Borders, the travel industry, the music industry or the teacher’s unions. If you don’t see the inevitable trends, you’re part of the problem.

          • Some guy from san francisco who went to HBS posted on the comments section of a college newspaper! The trends HAVE to be inevitable.

          • johnlonergan says:

            How sustainable is Brown’s current direction–sky-high tuition, relatively low endowment, and 45% of accepted applicants deciding to attend Harvard, Stanford, etc.? Does it make sense for Brown to spend $160 million to add 10 professor positions?

            How is Brown’s competitive position vis-a-vis not only other Ivies, but vs. other universities? In San Francisco, I can choose degreed undergraduate and graduate programs from Harvard, Stanford, Cornell and many other universities. They charge for these courses. This is a potential revenue opportunity for Brown. If Brown chose to embrace modern teaching and expand its brand, it could teach millions rather than the 1600 per year who come to Providence; it could move away principal revenue sources from sky-high tuitions and alumni hand-outs, and it could interact with and accept the world’s next Mahatma Gandhis, Nelson Mandelas and Albert Einsteins.

            Excuse this San Francisco viewpoint from a Brown alum, but we see Brown’s competition progressing by leaps and bounds while Brown is mired in the last century. Brown’s reputation as a center of higher learning is taking a hit, and its economic model is proving ever-more unsustainable.

            You may not want to hear this…after all, the Brown campus can prove wonderfully comforting. How do you boil a frog? Put it in lukewarm water, and turn up the temperature. By the time the frog realizes that the water is too hot, it can no longer move. Brown administration (and some students) are like that frog in hot water–becoming uncomfortable (tuition, institutional torpor), but unable to jump out of the water.

            Rather than ad hominem attacks…”well, you know, he just isn’t one of us,” it makes more sense to exchange and contribute constructive ideas to bring Brown back to a leadership role in education. Are you up to the task?

          • Rather than ad hominem attacks…
            I know I’m ignorant, and am part of the problem, and have rich parents who don’t care about money, but I’m gonna have to stop you right there John.

          • johnlonergan says:

            Thank you for supporting needed and meaningful change at Brown.

          • The other john is a big fan of doom as well as calling people part of the problem. I’d just ignore him.

          • johnlonergan says:

            Doom and gloom? Do you think that Brown’s really in a position to tell others “I’m OK?” Do you think that Brown’s current position is sustainable? If you believe this, you are either ignorant, or your parents are very rich and don’t care where their money goes.

            This alum stands ready to pay a lot to Brown for continuing education–but this is not available to me or other alumni.

          • Dermott O'Conner says:

            You would waste your money. This is no longer about students. It is no longer about alumni or alumnae. It is no longer about teaching or research. It is about Chris Paxson’s career goals. You would think that she would want to do a good job. Alas, she does, but she is just not capable. But don’t forget: it’s about her, not you.

          • johnlonergan says:

            I and other alums will not give money to Brown as long as Christina Paxson refuses to exercise leadership. I will not call her “President” until she shows vision and a way out of Brown’s current decline.

            Christina, if you are not capable of leading, you have two choices for the good of Brown: lead or get out of the way. I have observed that you have no vision. As a Harvard MBA, former McKinsey consultant, founder of 5 companies and investor in 23, my judgment is that you don’t know how to provide either vision or leadership.

            If you wish to keep your job, I recommend that you bring in people who know how to bring about change in an organization mired in the 19th Century–sorry, but Brown didn’t even get to the 20th.

            You are running a declining institution. Your “toe in the water” changes demonstrate your complete lack of ability to see what is happening. Brown is being disintermediated not only by Stanford and Harvard, but by countless other “lesser” universities around the world who’ve gotten the message: change or die.

            Do you think that 250 years of experience will save Brown from irrelevance? Did tradition save banks, travel agencies, bookshops, Nokia or Blackberry? Sorry Christina, but your brand is past its sell-by date.

            Perhaps Princeton has a seat left for you? If you plan to stay in your current position, you’d better start relying on alumni for more than ATM contributions. Believe it or not, we’ve turned around organizations even more hidebound and visionless than Brown.

        • Rory Bannigan says:

          The “more Ivy” amongst the Ivies have graduate schools of business. Those business schools have classes about business policies. In those classes, through cases, they facilitate student understanding that a commitment to executing a policy well matters more than the choice of a policy itself. This is common sense. It makes no difference how fantastic one’s policy is if one cannot execute it. Can Chris Paxson execute your (johnlonergan’s) policy? Can she execute her own policy (assuming that she has one)? Can she execute her predecessor’s policy? Not in your and my life time. So Brown University is in worse shape than you think. Whatever is done, it will continue to head south.

      • “…actual colleges where students are asked to think and interact with each other…” Because that was totally the case when Ray Kelly came to town? BAHAHA

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