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Editorial: We're all right, Dave

David Dooley, the new president of the University of Rhode Island, has grand plans for increasing collaboration with Brown. He'd like the two universities to share research sites and equipment, work together on projects and grant proposals and allow students to cross-register for classes. We're all for pooling resources, especially in tough economic times. But some of Dooley's ideas are unsettling, and we urge the University to think carefully about whether these measures would benefit Brown.

Chief among our concerns is Dooley's proposal for cross-registration between Brown and URI. The University currently allows cross-registration with the Rhode Island School of Design, and Dooley has hopes for a similar program between Brown and his school. But opening our classroom doors to URI students may do Brown more harm than good.

First, consider the impact of an influx of students on Brown's course infrastructure. Overcrowding in classes is already a significant problem at Brown. A number of courses are so full that students must sit on the floor or on windowsills. One section of ENGN 0900: "Management of Industrial and Nonprofit Organizations" has 261 students in a room with capacity for 140. What's more, a shortage of teaching assistants is leading more professors to impose enrollment caps on their courses, making it harder to enroll in popular classes.

Sure, URI students might jump at the chance to take such Brunonian classes as GNSS1960G: "The Globalization of Family-Making" and MCM0800E: "Race and Imagined Futures." But Brown classes and professors are already feeling a strain. Adding more students to the mix will only make matters worse. And we're not talking about a trivial number of students. With nearly 13,000 undergraduates, URI's undergraduate population is almost double the size of Brown's.

Dooley told The Herald this week that collaboration, including cross-registration, could benefit both institutions. Brown offers programs that are unavailable to URI students, and URI offers classes that are unavailable on College Hill. In theory, cross-registration would give Brown students access to classes on nursing, pharmacology and marine research. But transportation difficulties will likely rule out these opportunities for most Brown students. Though URI has one campus in Providence, the campuses that offer more eclectic classes — the ones unavailable here at Brown — are far away from College Hill. 

We don't like to be overly pessimistic, but here's the worst-case scenario: URI students enroll in Brown classes by the dozens, straining the University's resources. On the other side, relatively few Brown students take the bus to Narragansett to study oceanography. Clearly, Brown does not come out ahead.

If the University decides to consider cross-registration with URI, administrators must ensure that Brown can reap the benefits. That may mean placing a cap on the number of students who can cross-register in a given semester or severely limiting the types of classes students can enroll in. It may also mean setting up a shuttle between campuses so that Brown students can take advantage of URI's rich class offerings.

Collaboration is good. We just need to make sure we get our money's worth.

Editorials are written by The Herald's editorial page board. Send comments to


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