University News

BrownTogether campaign to fund campus renovations

Engineering building, Watson expansion and performing arts center among imminent projects

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, October 30, 2015

The University plans to raise $600 million for campus development under the “BrownTogether” comprehensive campaign. The most significant coming projects are the new School of Engineering building, an expansion of the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs that will allow it to house the Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy, and a new center for performing arts, said Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06.

The University broke ground on the new engineering building last week.

During former President Ruth Simmons’ 11-year tenure, about a billion dollars were spent on campus development, including acquisitions and the construction of the Nelson Fitness Center and Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, Carey said.

Now, administrators are “taking a moment to reflect on the previous decade and, along with our academic priorities, seeing what we imagine for the next decade,” he said. The Committee on Reimagining the Brown Campus and Community is leading the planning of the new construction projects and renovations.

“Performing arts is one we’ve been spending a lot of time on in the ‘programming phase,’ as it was highlighted as a critical need,” Carey said, adding that it will “start from music and radiate out.” Right now, the orchestra rehearses in Alumnae Hall — which Carey said has terrible acoustics — and performs in Sayles Hall.

“Neither of these facilities are up to par with the quality of the ability from students and faculty on campus,” Carey said.

Another problem the operational plan aims to solve is that existing facilities do not meet the needs of dance rehearsal space, an issue that the new performing arts building would potentially solve. “There is a desire for spaces to be flexible, with high utility, and available as much as possible,” Carey said, adding that flexible space often means compromising for specific functions.

“Music, theatre and performance studies have different priorities for the building, but we all need practice and rehearsal spaces that allow us to do collaborative and embodied work as well as performing spaces,” said Patricia Ybarra, associate professor of theatre arts and performance studies and chair of the department. “Brown is generally under-resourced in terms of these types of spaces, so the ideas for the new building are necessary and exciting.”

With the integration of the Taubman Center into the Watson Institute, the need for facilities has grown, said Shankar Prasad, the Watson Institute’s associate director for academic programs and planning. The Watson Institute has established a dramatic growth plan that includes the hiring of many new faculty members, he added.

This addition of students, faculty and staff necessitates increased space for offices, collaborative study and graduate students. “It was really important that 59 Charlesfield became a dedicated space for graduate students in particular … because group works is one of the big aspects of the policy programs here, that you’re working in a team to deconstruct problems,” Prasad said.

The construction on 59 Charlesfield St. is slated to be complete by the end of November. Faculty will move their offices over winter break, and it will be fully operational next semester, he said.

Since the School of Engineering was established in 2010, the University has been working to expand the program. Currently, there are 44 faculty members in the school, Carey said, adding that there should be closer to 60.

A number of considerations went into deciding where and how to build the new engineering building. The Jewelry District, which is closer to the Alpert Medical School, was a strong possibility for the building’s location. But two studies led planners to decide to keep the construction closer to existing facilities, Carey said. One study analyzed how students use the curriculum, while the other examined how students use space on campus.

The specific research being done by the faculty in the department also plays a big role in the kind of spaces and equipment that are necessary, Carey said. Science buildings are often the most energy intensive buildings, and it is important that they are not overly susceptible to vibrations, he said.

Brown’s integration to the community and eclectic architectural style  also form a big part of the planning process, Carey said. When new construction goes up, “there is a very deep sense of pride and respect” for the aesthetic of the neighborhood and the campus, he said.

A design review committee chaired by Craig Barton, director of the Design School and professor of architecture and urban design at Arizona State University, is tasked with making the design decisions. The group is an offshoot of  a Corporation committee for facilities and campus planning.

Faculty from involved departments are also given a role in planning renovations and design. During the planning for renovations to 59 Charlesfield St., meetings were held every week with Facilities Management, members of Taubman and Watson, architects and planners, Prasad said. At the meetings, they discuss everything from paint colors to desks and chairs, with the only constraint on their input being the budget already put in place, he said.

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  1. But Paxson just gave an interview saying that physical construction is not a priority. Her scheisster self, as usual.

    • Not sure what your beef is. In order to achieve some of the academic goals of the strategic plan there is a need to combine academic priorities with facility improvements. For example, students require more spaces for study groups and late night studying; offering more research opportunities for students requires more lab space; addressing the need to improve dorms for upperclassman means we have to spend on building improvements…..The student body should be thankful for all the support that the Corporation and the alumni body are willing to offer to improve academics and campus life. All we should hear is “thank you” from the students given the breadth and scope of this ambitions campaign. Thank you, thank you and thank you for more financial aid for middle income families, more endowed professorships, more lab space for research, better athletic facilities…..

  2. Great. More bricks and mortar. Can you please look up “disintermediation” in the dictionary? Do you know why banks, travel agencies and, yes, universities have moved away from bricks and mortar?

    I will not give a dime of my money to Brown unless Christina Paxson (or her eagerly-awaited successor) changes Brown’s model of “expand the physical plant, ignore how education functions in the 21st Century.”

    Brown has the lowest endowment in the Ivy League, yet one of the highest tuitions in the nation. Brown graduates have the lowest mean salaries after graduation of the Ivy League, while Brown students incur massive debts for their education. Brown’s administrative budget has grown 3x inflation for the past 30 years. Brown now has over 281 departments (!!).

    Where does this ruinous path lead?

    • Mr. Lonergan, I assume you are indeed one of the wealthiest Brown alumni in the Bay area. Let me explain to you why you are too harsh on President Paxson and why loyal Brown alumni should support Brown in this campaign.

      The Brown engineering building is long overdue! (I’m in physics.) You mentioned frequently Stanford and Harvard – both schools invested heavily in science and engineering buildings during the past 20 years. They have the state-of-the-art cleanrooms and microfabrication facilities. We have a makeshift one from the 80s on the 7th floor of Barus-Holley. Our class-100 cleanroom is so small that students need to wait for their turns. Science education is not all online, by watching videos. Yes, Youtube videos have lots of useful materials that we can use, but we must have hardwares, labs! Real labs! Without actually doing an experiment, one cannot get a real sense of what is 1 micron and what is 0.001 micron.

      I do not agree with every decision President Paxson has made at Brown, but investing in new brick buildings for engineering is the right one. We need it. Generations of Brown students will get a better education because of it. Your support will be highly appreciated! The fact that you often posted on BDH shows that you really cared about Brown! I will personally take you out to lunch if you come back to College Hill. Sean Ling, Professor of Physics

      • Jans Stackenberg says:

        Couldn’t get a job at MIT or Princeton, huh?

      • Hi Sean,

        Thanks for your thoughtful and thorough response. I understand the need for additional engineering facilities. We’ve invested in those ourselves in several of our portfolio companies. More importantly, we’re also sharing such facilities.

        I don’t question Brown’s need for additional lab facilities. Where I do have questions is on how Brown, and more specifically the Engineering Department, can raise money in order to fund its capital and expense needs.

        The bottom line is: you have the power to raise the money yourselves…not going hat-in-hand to alumni (I would hate to do that), but by offering the kind of courses that raised $6 million for Brown this summer in a very limited, campus-based program for high school students.

        14 AP courses offered by Brown’s engineering department would raise $100 million in NET INCOME PER YEAR. Here are the details: This is a plan that a number of us have developed in Northern California.

        Listen, I question a lot of things about Brown’s current direction. But I don’t begrudge the STEMs receiving far more resources than they do today. Fact is, STEMs are sexy and marketable, and the Enginering profs and students can (1) raise $100 million a year for their department, (2) put some money in the jeans of professors and students alike, and (3) spread the reputation of Brown’s engineering prowess far and wide.

        Rather than ask me and other alums for money–how about doing it on your own? Is the Brown faculty willing to take its fate into its own hands? Which would you rather do–kowtow for handouts, or earn your way in a competitive learning marketplace?

        If you need help, we in Northern California are there to advise. Just call on us.

        Which path do you choose?

        John Lonergan, AB ’72, Harvard MBA ’76, Medical Device VC, San Francisco

        • Hi John,

          I finally took a serious reading of the proposal in your link. I can assure that your proposal will be dead on arrival at the FEC at Brown. (Such proposals require FEC approval.) What you are proposing is to ask Brown STEM faculty, like myself, to come to Northern CA area, to offer certified summer AP courses that bear Brown’s name. Summer is the time I can have un-interrupted attention to my research projects. I love teaching, but I spend 90% of my time thinking about research (50% of that is spent on writing grant proposals). You seriously underestimated Brown STEM faculty!

          If you indeed have $100M to donate, instead of giving it to Harvard, you can make a real impact at Brown. Imagine a John Lonergan Foundation for Science, you will support the STEM faculty at Brown (physics in particular), freeing us from the grant writing slavery, we will be more productive in doing the frontier research. (Then in the summer, some of us will be willing to come to Northern CA to volunteer for your nonprofit school for STEM.)

          Your $100M donation to Harvard may get a honorable mention somewhere on their newspaper, but to Brown, you will be remembered among the most generous alums.


          Sean Ling

          • Sean, change is hard. Like parents kicking their teen out of the nest, we need to take the Engineering Department off the teat of alumni contributions. Look where you’re spending your time when not teaching–looking for money. Wouldn’t it be better to have your fate in your own hands?

            I don’t no nothin bout birthin no FEC’s. What I do know is that if your department wants to break free of a failing model and truly offer 21st Century teaching, you must help to implement these changes.

            What’s wrong with raising $100 million a year (not a 1-time contribution, but EVERY YEAR)? What’s wrong with extending Brown’s STEM across the world? What’s wrong with recruiting the best and the brightest from the poorest schools in the nation, and from poor but gifted students from around the world? What’s wrong with STEM students and profressors at Brown teaching others outside Brown’s ivy walls? And finally, what’s wrong with taking your own destiny in your own hands?

            Do you really want to change? Then we’ve got the roadmap. Yes. it will be difficult to convince the powers-that-be at a calcified, privilege-encrusted university. But by challenging the university, you are saving the university.

            Are you in or out?

        • John, You are to be admired for persistent effort. I hope Professor Ling’s capacity to understand things and to contemplate possibilities are not representative of his peers within Brown University. If they were representative, then the Alma Mater would be in big trouble indeed. Already the science underwhelms. Anybody themselves can find acceptable coffee on Thayer. Now the administrative (in)competence underwhelms too.

          Professor Ling, If an accomplished and well-meaning person suggests a possible path for your organization to make some gains, only an idiot would shut him down by throwing – what is it? – FEC rules at him. Think hard about this. This is public service to you. Good luck going for that Nobel Prize, or any meaningful administrative role at Brown University, whichever were realistic.

  3. Pinderhughes says:

    Don’t understand all the love for Harvard, Stanford, et al in this thread. I’m an old Brown alum who still lives in Providence. My late wife was a Harvard alum, and so was her late Pulitzer Prize winning husband. They hated the place so much that they constantly discouraged their only child, a daughter from applying. Of course, as a double legacy, and a smart person in her own right, she applied and was admitted. Her first choice though was Brown, and she applied ED. She was denied. I mention this because the general public vastly overrates Harvard and vastly underrates Brown. A couple of years ago Brown had 4 Rhodes Scholar winners from a total student enrollment of about 8000. Neither Stanford nor Harvard had as many, with total student enrollments of about 13000 and 20000 respectively.
    As for Brown’s endowment, the measure to use is money per student. If you use that measure, Brown’s endowment is competitive with Penn, Columbia, and Cornell. Not embarrassing by any means. Remember too, that Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford are all in high cost areas where the cost of doing business is far higher than Rhode Island. They need those endowments to be competitive.
    I make no apologies for loving Brown just as it is. I received a first-rate education there, and the New Curriculum allowed me to truly explore my intellectual interests and grow. I contrast this with Harvard, which is oddly conformist and very pre-professional. I have no problem in saying that Brown is, by far, a superior place to get a true undergraduate education to Harvard, or, for that matter, Stanford, which is also conformist and pre-professional.
    Although I appreciate and love your passion for Brown John, I deeply disagree on your assessment on Brown’s situation relative to it’s peers.

    • I take it all back, Pinderhughes. Brown is fine just as-is.
      You’re right: 40% of those accepted to Brown go elsewhere because–they just got stupid at the last moment. Brown’s perpetual budget deficits are OK because–well, alums will give more money (won’t they)? Brown need not revise its student acceptance, how it teaches, or how it raises money (i.e. begging).
      You’re right. In a world with no change and no competition, Brown would be just fine.
      Those of us who DON’T live in Providence, and especially those on the West Coast, see the wider world. It’s changing. The old idea of a brick classroom with 20 students and a teacher lecturing in front is no longer tenable.
      I am glad that you enjoyed a good education at Brown. So did I. But I graduated in 1972…I don’t know when you graduated, but it was probably a while ago (if your daughter went to Brown…).
      Living in the Bay Area, and having gone to Harvard, I’ve had a chance to look at new-fangled, 21st Century innovations, from Khan Academy to MOOCs to freemium education. I’ve seen up close and first-hand (also teaching on the graduate level at U of Mich and U of New Mexico) how these changes are affecting all aspects of education.
      I’m afraid that your and my alma mater is on a deeply disturbing course…one which is tarnishing Brown’s reputation as a place to attend and learn. Brown must change, or it will continue to descend into irrelevance.
      Do I want Brown to become Harvard or Stanford? Of course not! I want Brown to forge a new, modern identity while it still can. Unfortunately, Christina Paxson is unable to bring a cohesive strategic vision to the changes that need to take place. Deans are too scared of the faculty. And faculty is too afraid that their teaching effectiveness will be brought into question. Altogether, Brown has degenerated into a siloed, bunker mentality (281 departments, and counting!).
      How do we get out of this devil’s spiral? Check out our articles and proposals at
      Please, use your status as a Brown alum and Providence resident to push for real, meaningful and relevant change for our alma mater. At our age, all we can do is fight to keep Brown relevant.

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