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News, University News

UCS hosts undergraduate town hall with University administration

Administrators discuss fall semester plans, student concerns, campus life

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 9, 2021

President Christina Paxson P'19 covered police presence on campus, anti-Asian and Asian-American violence, the new vice president of athletics and recreation and a number of other topics at the event.

At a town hall hosted by the Undergraduate Council of Students yesterday, President Christina Paxson P’19, along with other University administrators, discussed the University’s plans for the upcoming summer and fall semesters, support for young alums and test-optional policies for undergraduate applicants. 

Tuesday’s town hall, the second-ever hosted by the Council, began with updates and introductions by UCS President Jason Carroll ’21, UCS Vice President Summer Dai ’22 and Paxson. 

These town halls were born out of discussions between Carroll, Dai and the Office of the President “around how to keep the student body updated on the University’s latest policies and planning,” Dai said. 

In Paxson’s update, she shared that M. Grace Calhoun ’92 would be named the new vice president of athletics and recreation, a decision that has changed the athletics director position to a cabinet level position, The Herald previously reported. 

The change to a vice president title “means that I’ve elevated this position to a cabinet level position that reports to me, and (doing so) reflects my dedication (and) the University’s dedication to advancing the role of athletics,” Paxson said.

Paxson also noted that the University is continuing to investigate the role of police presence on campus. As a part of this effort, the Brown University Community Council has been holding discussions with students, faculty and staff around how to improve current approaches to safety and security, Paxson said. 

Paxson also acknowledged the ongoing pandemic, the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, anti-Black racism and the nationwide increase in violence against Asians and Asian-Americans as realities the University community continues to grapple with. She shared the importance of continuing conversations around anti-racism, specifically noting that the University hopes to host events in the coming weeks in response to the increase in violence towards Asians and Asian-Americans. 

Carroll and Olugbenga Joseph ’16, assistant to the President for special projects, then read student questions to the panel. 

The first question, which was submitted prior to the meeting, asked administrators when students could expect a return to “normal campus operations.” 

In response, Provost Richard Locke P’18 shared that the University will make decisions going forward based on two variables: prevalence of infection and vaccines. He is hopeful that by the summer, the majority of adults will be vaccinated and relatively low infection prevalence will allow the University to “return to a two-semester academic model with traditional density levels in the classrooms, in the laboratories, in the dormitories and in extracurricular activities.” 

“I think it’s really important to orient ourselves to thinking that we’re going to be living with COVID-19 for quite some time,” as well as public health guidance, added Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06.

At the moment, the University is not able to distribute the vaccine to undergraduates at a site on campus. But, “as the months progress and supply gets a little broader and deeper, it may very well be that we’re able to do vaccine clinics just like we do flu shot clinics every year,” Carey added.

The administrators present also answered multiple questions related to student-activism. 

One attendee inquired about an update about a 2019 recommendation by the former Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Practices to divest from companies “facilitating human rights abuses in Palestine.”  

Paxson shared that she did not believe that the recommendation by ACCRIP met the “high threshold” necessary for divestment, a sentiment she explained to the committee in a meeting last spring. Because the recommendation did not meet that threshold, Paxson did not bring it up to the Corporation for a vote and instead introduced it informally, she said. 

“Generally, Brown does not take institutional positions on contested geopolitical issues, especially those on which thoughtful members of our large community have very profound disagreements,” Paxson added. 

Another student also submitted a question about recent efforts by campus group Students for Educational Equity calling for the University to permanently make standardized tests optional in the admissions process. 

In response, Locke said the University is currently tracking the effect of their decision to go test-optional for the past two years due to concerns about accessibility of  standardized testing during the pandemic. The University has also been having conversations with the University of Chicago to learn more about how the test-optional policy has impacted a peer institution. 

We want to make sure that Brown is accessible to all great students who are capable of being here, and we want to make sure that we don’t make a decision that might actually inadvertently hurt access to some students over others,” Locke added. 

A final decision will be made based on the data that emerges from the test-optional period, he said. 

Administrators also discussed support for young alums, in terms of resources and social life.

While services such as access to software catalogues and journals expire upon graduation, young alums will still have access to the CareerLab and the Fellowship Office, said Dean of the College Rashid Zia ’01. 

The University is also considering ways to provide some opportunities to young alums who have missed out on University traditions like Spring Weekend and commencement. 

“We have already begun conversations and what it would be like to potentially have a set of alumni tickets for future Spring Weekends,” said Director of Student Activities Joie Steele. 

Other concerns expressed at the event included accountability for students who break COVID-19 regulations, class inclusivity, spring athletics and sourcing of funding for the new integrated health system.

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