University News

Paxson discusses University elitism, community growth

State of Brown address covers recent email leak, administrators’ plans for creating safer campus

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, April 23, 2015

Students raised questions about faculty diversity, the inclusivity of campus culture and a recent Gawker article questioning the integrity of the admission process during President Christina Paxson’s P’19 State of Brown talk.

President Christina Paxson P’19 discussed issues of Corporation accountability, mental health and faculty diversity, among other topics, in her State of Brown address in Metcalf Auditorium Wednesday.

With the support of other senior administrators and faculty members, Paxson said she is focused on the future of Brown and “what the open curriculum should look like in the 21st century.” An external firm is helping the University develop a capital campaign.

Paxson said she is excited about finding “a way to use technology in classrooms in a way that actually makes the Brown curriculum stronger,” adding that The Herald misrepresented this sentiment after last year’s State of Brown. “What I see technology doing is giving us a way to get rid of large lecture courses and build on what Brown does really well” in offering smaller group courses.

The new Engaged Scholars Program, entrepreneurial initiatives and BrownConnect are also reasons for excitement, she said.

“The most important thing about a university is the people who come to it,” Paxson said. “We talk a lot about building buildings, but two-thirds of our budget is (spent) on people.”

More financial aid made available by an anonymous donor allowed the University to double the Resumed Undergraduate Education class, Paxson said. While the University aids lower-income students more effectively than its peers, support for middle-income students needs improvement, she added.

The lack of faculty diversity, which renders the faculty unrepresentative of the student population, is problematic, she said, adding that she hopes to double the 8.5 percent of faculty members who are underrepresented minorities in the next 10 years. This year’s new diversity postdoctoral program will help “to build the pipeline of people who are coming in,” she said. Paxson said she rejects the suggestion from several Herald op-eds “that graduate students are somehow at odds” with undergraduates, and she will focus on doctoral education in the future.

Paxson acknowledged that Brown has dealt with emotionally difficult issues this year. “We’ve been asking how can we make our campus safe from the threat of sexual assault and gender-based violence and harassment,” she said.

“I am always happy that Brown has students that aren’t complacent,” Paxson said. “I would rather have you (protest) than to not care.”

The University is also focused on “how to improve mental health services on campus and take away the stigma” of mental illness, Paxson said. Brown must restructure its mental health system despite costs, she added.

Unlike the work of the Task Force on Sexual Assault, the Mental Health Community Council’s efforts will be ongoing, Paxson said.

Paxson said she seeks more integration of physical and mental health in the resources offered on campus. In addition to increasing capacity through more hires, expanding the seven-session CAPS limit and providing more support to students through the entire process of taking medical leave, restructuring efforts will look to include improving student health insurance coverage for counseling and better coordinating referrals, said Margaret Klawunn, vice president for campus life and student services.

Paxson then opened the floor for discussion, fielding questions from more than 15 students in the hour following her initial address.

Candice Ellis ’16 asked how Paxson intended to effectively report any increases in faculty diversity given that “doubling (the percentage) would not be impactful” if it were not distributed evenly. Paxson said Brown would be more likely to see data across academic divisions — humanities and social, life and physical sciences — to avoid causing anyone to “feel singled out.”

Justice Gaines ’16 asked what Paxson is personally doing to learn about issues of inclusion and identity, adding that some students do not feel comfortable going to the administration for support.

In addition to attending events like the JewQ Seder at Brown/RISD Hillel, Paxson said she tends to “like less formal interactions with smaller groups.”

“I need your help,” Paxson said. “This has to be a two-way thing.”

Jamie Marsicano ’15.5 read aloud an excerpt of an email, leaked in the SONY hacks and published online on Gawker, that Paxson sent to current and emeriti members of the Corporation regarding letters of recommendations for applicants. “When you look at the sexual assault case, when you look at this email that you sent to the Corporation and think about what connections the Corporation has … how can you tell us that the hashtag Money Talks at Brown is not a true one?” Marsicano asked.

The article showed the letter selectively, not entirely, Paxson said, adding that the full text is available on Wiki Leaks. “You can go get it,” she said of the email.

“The real purpose for that letter is to let people set their expectations about the level of influence they can have,” Paxson said. “Nobody can buy their way into Brown.”

Several times throughout the address, Paxson repeated that admission is separate from fundraising. “What I’ve been trying to do is to actually increase the separation — make it crystal clear that admissions is separate from everything else.”

“I know that the people who work in the Admission Office have incredible integrity — I believe that to my bones. How do I convince you of that? I’m not sure how,” Paxson said in response to an audience question about administrative accountability.

“When people talk about the Corporation, who do you think you’re talking about?” Paxson asked.

As Paxson listed professions of Corporation members, including a law professor and a head of research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Darian Surratt ’15 called out “elite!” repeatedly. “Those are still very elite people with money, and in the grand scheme of the United States, those are people with a lot of money,” Surratt said.

These people are Brown students 30 years later, Paxson replied. “The day you got accepted to Brown put you in a position of privilege and power.”

“This is a longer conversation we have to have,” Paxson said. “We want to have a really wonderfully diverse community,” she added, saying, “This is not about getting rich kids into Brown. This is about finding the best students.”



  1. Just a lot of words from a clueless hick. Rapes happen at Brown. Paxson talks a lot, but does nothing. She is not capable.

  2. The editors of the BDH were not able to publish the following, so I publish it here:

    A gift of $100 million a year to

    We would like to
    give $100 million per year to Brown. This money could be used to offset tuition
    fees, pay professors more, and support Brown’s current budget, which is in
    deficit. We have proposed this to
    Christina Paxson and several leaders within Brown’s administration.

    We in Northern
    California have created a plan to significantly increase Brown’s
    revenues. We are students from
    before birth, and remain students until we die. Those who are fortunate
    enough to attend Brown bring their own experiences and relationships with them.
    Our proposal outlines how Brown can participate in the learning process
    for high school students, with a goal of exposing students to Brown professors
    and students, developing and reinforcing a Brown-student relationship well
    before the admissions process begins.

    The key benefits to
    Brown are:

    1. Brown can
    add $100 million in revenues by teaching AP courses.

    2. This program would
    benefit both high-income and low-income high school students, as well as local
    teachers, Brown professors and Brown students (as paid

    3. This gives you Brown
    to increase student acceptance
    rate (now at 60%) and improve the number of high-potential poor
    students (a key target).

    proposal outlines a plan for Brown to offer AP courses in select schools,
    starting with Northern California. These
    courses would be co-taught by the local AP teacher and Brown professor,
    assisted by Brown students acting as proctors.
    The goals of the program are:

    1. To offer the students a compelling, interesting and
    informative set of courses.

    2. To expose promising high school students to Brown professors
    and students.

    3. To give Brown visibility on promising students who may
    become good candidates to attend Brown.

    4. To support schools which may need
    teaching resources in inner-city and poorer school districts, and support their
    local efforts.

    fundamental principles of this program are that (1) it must be financially
    self-supporting, (2) it offers a first-class educational experience that is
    rewarding for Brown students and professors as well as students, and (3) that
    it works in concert with local resources, with full backing of the high

    is offered

    The educational product would consist of the following:

    A set of internet lectures using
    the Khan Academy format on AP subjects, given by a professor at Brown.
    These lectures are normally watched by the students online at home
    (as homework).

    A set of exercises and questions
    which are answered by the students during class time.

    A teaching guide for the local AP
    teacher. The teacher uses this guide and assists students in class
    to answer questions and do exercises.

    Tests to be proctored by the local
    AP teacher which are submitted for grading to Brown students assisting the
    professor (Brown students are paid for this course assistance). Results
    are then shared with the AP teacher and Brown (for certification).

    If applicable, online textbooks as
    a part of the educational offering.

    will pay?

    those who have the greatest stakes in the education of students: parents,
    teachers, guidance counselors, who are willing and able to pay. “Rich”
    schools’ parents pay for their child’s certificate. Some scholarships
    offered. “Poor” schools parents pay, but with a great deal more
    scholarship assistance.

    are the target markets?

    the world. The “freemium” model can be disseminated on YouTube and used
    by millions. The “certificate” model is also freely expandable (same
    professor, more Brown student proctors).

    much effort is involved?

    A Khan
    Academy format requires very little professor time and effort. With a
    virtual “blackboard” and voiceover, the professor can video a series of
    lectures based on his/her Brown classroom offerings.

    school students in the “certified” program will require support. This
    would be provided by Brown students working at the direction of a Brown
    professor. These students’ main tasks would include grading courses,
    answering teachers’ and students’ questions, and monitoring feedback.


    scholarships administered by Brown in collaboration with local guidance counselors.

    We have shared the
    entire plan, with revenues and costs, with top members of the administration at
    Brown. It is also available for public
    view at

    So, what’s stopping
    us? Let’s make this happen.

    • Kay Floinks says:

      What’s stopping us? Nothing is stopping us. But it is a smart plan, put together by smart people. Therefore as long as Chris Paxson is president, it will not succeed.

      • If Chris Paxon told you the sky was blue, how would you respond? Honest question.

        • joe ocean says:

          Not too fast, my friend. She would first give a BDH interview to tell that she was thinking about appointing an exploratory committee to discuss the qualifications of people whom she might appoint as advisory committee members so that they can advise on points to consider on how to appoint a committee of people to discuss, on an uncommitted basis, the concepts of blueness. Then she would have to spend time seeking advice from the physics, chemistry, geology, and arts departments on how to use the discussion about the concepts of blueness in matters related to the sky. Exactly.

  3. student '16 says:

    Everyone knows people can buy their way into any school. I talked to someone who did this at Brown and doubt they are the only one…..gross.

  4. “The day you got accepted to Brown put you in a position of privilege and power” – Paxson. Brilliant, and needs to be said for the pathetic whiners that dominate so much of the discourse here.

  5. DIYinSTL says:

    Paxson is stuck on the concept that diversity is limited to sex and race. Far more could be achieved by addressing the political segregation defining Brown’s faculty. What Brown lacks most is a diversity of ideas and willingness to consider them.

  6. ShadrachSmith says:

    Paxson’s theme song

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