University News

Paxson releases operational plan to steer Brown’s future

Plan outlines steps such as faculty growth, new buildings to increase Brown’s prestige

University News Editor
Friday, September 18, 2015

President Christina Paxson P’19 offered a preview of the changes and initiatives that will shape the University’s next decade with the release of an operational plan Thursday.

The plan, “Operational Plan for Building Brown’s Excellence,” identifies four key areas that will guide Brown’s growth: integrative scholarship, educational leadership, academic excellence and campus development. A major undercurrent running through the plan is expansion, including that of the faculty, staff, buildings, programs and research.

Paxson released a long-term strategic plan, “Building on Distinction,” in September 2013. The 57-page operational plan translates the goals outlined in the 11-page strategic plan into concrete actions.

A capital campaign, set to launch in October, will finance the efforts. “The thrust of the plan … centers on the goals and key areas of emphasis that will require fundraising,” Paxson wrote in a community-wide email Thursday.

Paxson and Provost Richard Locke P’17 will solicit community feedback on the operational plan at a community forum Monday afternoon.

Attuned to the arts

The plan articulates a desire for Brown to “become the university of choice” for arts programs. One large investment will be in the Center for the Creative Arts, which will be located in the “heart of campus.” This 80,000-square-foot building will boast a design concept making it “unique in higher education,” with space for large ensemble dance, music and theater performances.

Other spaces like the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts will be subject to “renovations and enhancements.”

The University is also launching Global Arts Hubs, a series of partnerships with arts communities all over the world that will pilot in Berlin. These partnerships will allow students and faculty members to travel abroad and work with leading scholars and artists in partnerships that could turn into degree programs. Similarly, planning for new dual degree programs is underway at the Rhode Island School of Design and local arts institutions and conservatories. The plan does not detail how these offerings would differentiate from the existing five-year Brown/RISD Dual Degree program.

Watching Watson

The plan calls for the transformation of the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs into a “top five school of its kind in the U.S.” This growth encompasses new faculty hires in Watson, the Political Theory Project and the Middle East Studies department, as well as funds allocated for postdoctoral and graduate fellowships in centers including the Watson Institute, the Center for Race and Ethnicity in America and the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice.

To accommodate this growth, and the recent integration of the Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy into the Watson Institute, renovations have commenced on 59 Charlesfield Street. The plan also stresses the need for a permanent home for the CSREA, which is temporarily housed in Brown/RISD Hillel.

Scientific progress

The plan outlines significant growth across scientific disciplines, accompanied by increases in the numbers of faculty members, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students.

A good deal of growth will occur in relation to the Data Sciences Initiative, which could “establish Brown as a leader” in the emerging field of data sciences. This growth will include a new research program, undergraduate and master’s programs, PhD training program and the availability of “data fluency” courses for all Brown students. The new programs demand  a “physical center” for the Data Sciences Initiative, which the plan proposes will lead to “success in garnering sponsored research awards and corporate support for data science work.”

To make the Brown Institute for Brain Science a “top-10 research program,” the operational plan prioritizes researching how the brain produces “complex behaviors that make us human” and treatments for brain injuries and disease. “Significant investment in faculty” is a necessary step to realize the BIBS expansion goal, with the operational plan calling for recruitment in the areas of molecular neuroscience, neural systems, computational neuroscience and neuroengineering.

With the anticipated increase in the size of the faculty comes an associated increase in space — the plan calls for BIBS laboratories to be built in the Jewelry District and in the new engineering building.

Expanding upon the recent creation of the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, the University’s plan indicates an increase in faculty, postdoctoral fellows, graduate support and staff at the institute, requiring “both endowment and current-use funds.” The plan also nods toward an opportune moment following the transformation of the former Hunter Lab building into the building that houses IBES — it notes that both the institute and the building present a “significant naming opportunity.”

Turning to the School of Engineering, the plan prioritizes faculty growth, focusing on increasing the diversity of faculty members — both by decreasing the gender gap and increasing the number of faculty members who identify as underrepresented minorities.

Engineering graduate program sizes are expected to increase, and along with that comes an additional 80,000 square feet in the new engineering building and renovations to the Geology-Chemistry Research building.

Finally, investments will be concentrated in evidence-based health care, health data science, early determinants of health and global public health. Proposed initiatives stemming from these areas, in collaboration with the Alpert Medical School and other centers, include an Institute for Health Care Delivery, a Health Data Science Center, a Child Health Innovation Institute and a new master’s degree in Global Health.

Emphasis on education

The plan proposes to improve upon students’ educational experiences by “enhancing the undergraduate curriculum,” “catalyzing entrepreneurial innovation” and “supporting innovative doctoral education.”

“Brown will make a significant investment in undergirding the acquisition of core competencies by expanding institutional support of writing, reading, data analysis, problem solving and communication skills” primarily through the Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning. The Sheridan Center currently lacks a director after Kathy Takayama stepped down from the post this summer.

The Learning Commons will combine the enlarged responsibilities of the Sheridan Center, serving as an educational space in which students learn skills from peers. The Sheridan Center and all its components — the Writing Center, Science Center and Tutoring Services — will be located in a renovated part of the Sciences Library.

The University will continue to support digital education through flipped classrooms, blended courses and online courses, the plan states.

Investments in entrepreneurial innovation come in a few flavors — most importantly, the creation of a Center for Entrepreneurial Innovation. Though some peer institutions already have entrepreneurship centers, “the vision for the new center is unique within the constellation of entrepreneurship programs across the country.”

The launch of the center will entail several new hires, including an executive director. The center will need to be situated “on or close to campus.”

Last semester, graduate students — including those with the group Stand Up For Graduate Students — called for increased benefits including affordable housing, childcare, healthcare and dental insurance. Last spring, graduate students also protested against a perceived lack of support for sixth-year students. The plan responds to these concerns by noting that the University needs “to extend opportunities for sixth-year students … and enhance their summer stipends” as well as “offer competitive health insurance, dental care, enhanced childcare support and a funded parental leave policy.”

Supporting student life

On the financial aid front, the operational plan echoes the sentiments of the strategic plan, which primarily focused on increasing aid for low- and middle-income families.

The University does not currently have a need-blind admissions policy for international, transfer and Resumed Undergraduate applicants. Like the strategic plan, the operational plan makes no commitment to implementing universal need-blind admissions.

This fall, the University is set to release a Diversity Action Plan, which will state “the University’s commitment to address the underrepresentation and barriers to broad participation of U.S. minorities (African American, Hispanic/Latino, Native American and Asian American) and women across academic disciplines.”

Paxson has previously pledged to double the portion of faculty members who identify as underrepresented minorities. The plan builds off this pledge by announcing a “‘cluster hire’ of underrepresented scholars working on related topics or themes.”

Following the move of several administrative offices to South Street Landing in the Jewelry District, several buildings on College Hill will need to be renovated to serve new needs.

Former Provost Vicki Colvin, who stepped down June 30 after just one year in the position, named renovating the Sharpe Refectory as a priority during her tenure. The plan echoes her call for updating the facility, noting that the Ratty “no longer provides students with the dining options expected in a 21st century university.”

Looking ahead, the plan remains malleable. “It is also important to note that this is both a working document and a living document,” the plan states. “It serves as a road map for the next decade — one that allows us to be flexible and responsive to new opportunities that, like the ones contained in our plan, hold exceptional promise for Brown.”


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  1. it sounds good, i think. i applaud the scope.


    a) is there a plan put in place to contain spiraling tuition costs (which will finally hit the wall VERY soon)?

    b) are there any concrete details on the capital campaign? will this be a dong-measuring contest vis a vis our rivals? i’m curious what the goal figure will be

    • Brown’s expenses have grown 3x inflation over the past 30 years. Brown now has 4,500 employees for 8,500 students. Brown has 221 departments! Professors’ salaries have kept up, but administrative salaries have gone through the roof.

      Brown charges more tuition than all but a handful of universities in the US. Nowhere in Christina Paxson’s plan do you find a way to significantly cut Brown’s $900 million per year budget.

      Eric, you’re asking the right question. Christina Paxson’s answer to you is “drop dead.”

  2. Ricardo Milano says:

    3 years here, and she has written 57 pages. Oh…and of course she appoints committees. Smile.

  3. If it has more than 3 goals, it’s not a plan, it’s a laundry list.

    This Brown grad is not convinced that Brown deserves the money.

    While platitudes like “promoting entrepreneurship” (in the state with the most stultifying anti-business bureaucracy in the US) and “flipping the classroom” (with 20–count ’em–20) online courses planned in five years SOUND great, they are not part of a cohesive plan.

    Christina, the engine room is flooded and the foredeck is on fire. Your 57-page “plan” is not a way to save the boat and its passengers.

    We have offered a way to:
    1) Provide $100 million per year in additional revenue
    2) Improve the quality of teaching in measurable ways and
    3) Educate millions rather than the 1600 freshmen who come to Providence

    As a venture capitalist, former McKinsey consultant and founder of 4 companies, I can tell you that your boat don’t float. Time to call on your alums for more than money–we’re not your ATM’s, we’re the key to Brown’s salvation.

    • Mr. Lonergan, some questions: why do you assume that ‘Educate millions rather than the 1600 freshmen who come to Providence’ is an appropriate mission for Brown? And why should an albeit clearly accomplished and successful alum, or group of alums, be in a position to so radically redefine the mission of Brown? This isn’t so much an objection to the idea of extension education with a global reach, but you keep presenting this as a “rather than.” Don’t you think that the freshmen (and women) who come to Providence deserve a quality, excellent education, just like that from which you benefited?

      True, there are–or ought to be–many ways for the Alumni community to contribute to and enrich Brown. But your repeated message and flashing of your corporate credentials suggest that you believe you and your group should be making decisions on how Brown is run. I’ve seen nothing here (or anywhere else in the comments you’ve posted) to convince me that this should be the case.

      • Surely you can’t believe that the status quo is acceptable. 40% of those accepted to Brown choose to go elsewhere. Brown has the lowest endowment of the Ivies. Brown has among the highest tuition charges in the United States. Brown is running a perpetual budget deficit after increasing expenses by 3x inflation for the past 30 years. Worst of all, Brown is unable to demonstrate that its students learn anything between entry to the U and graduation.

        Alum, you shouldn’t need to hear a rehash of everything that other universities are doing to move from the 19th Century to the 21st Century. Brown’s old model of 20 people in a classroom with a lecturer in the front is not only outmoded, it’s ineffective and uncompetitive.

        “Flashing” my credentials simply demonstrates that there is a world beyond the ivy walls of Brown, and that the world is encroaching on Brown from many directions.

        A meaningless “strategic plan” that is, in fact, a laundry list of failed strategies, is no way to answer Brown’s problems.

        Brown needs root and branch reform. If you don’t believe it, Alum, please, give your money to Brown and shut up. If you do believe it, Alum, do something about it. We are more than mere ATM machines for the whims of Brown’s overstuffed administration.

        • Different alum says:

          “Worst of all, Brown is unable to demonstrate that its students learn anything between entry to the U and graduation.”

          I don’t think your plan really changes that.

          And I don’t think you really answered Alum’s question. You seem to take the approach in your mind that there are only two paths — yours or failure.

  4. Sounds good. Where is all the money going to come from?

  5. Paxson is totally not a rug muncher

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