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Simon Liebling '12: WTF, PLME?

Over at Alpert Medical School last week, administrators showed their unapologetic disregard for student interests when they sprung a surprise on unsuspecting students in the Program in Liberal and Medical Studies — a decision that we can expect to have precedential repercussions even for us common folk unbound to Providence after the end of senior year.

Last Wednesday, Associate Dean of Medicine Julianne Ip sent an e-mail announcing to current PLME undergraduates that Alpert was limiting the freedom of qualified students who wanted to "apply out" to other medical schools. Under the new policy, students who apply out will forfeit their guaranteed place at the Med School as soon as they choose to file applications. Whether or not they are admitted elsewhere, they will be stripped of the primary privilege afforded to PLME students. Overnight, the administration made it exceedingly unlikely that PLME students will ever again dare to consider leaving Brown for medical school.

When thinking about this effect in the context of the intent of the program, the policy change is understandable. By effectively prohibiting students from applying to other medical schools, the Alpert administration not only shackles its brightest students to Brown's medical school, but it removes the only remaining incentive for PLME students to complete the traditional pre-med

The decision encourages these students to pursue the liberal education that PLME enables by freeing them from the stringent requirements of the medical school admissions process. No longer do PLME students have reason to take a second semester of organic chemistry or worry about MCAT preparation. They may indulge their non-medical academic interests without concern for the temptation to apply out.

In effect, the policy change can be read as a way to ensure that PLME students aren't wasting their privilege by taking up spots when they could just as well have been traditional pre-med students. By this argument, a PLME student in a position to apply to other medical schools at the start of senior year probably missed the point of PLME in the first place.

Good educational intentions, though, are not the problem with the administration's decision. Instead, the administration marred what would have been a smart policy by deciding to implement it retroactively as far back as the current junior class, which will graduate med school in 2015. They changed the academic rules in the middle of the game.

It would have been one thing to change the policy only for future students, who could evaluate the program with the benefit of full disclosure and the freedom to decide whether or not to enroll. But instead, the administration chose to levy its new policy on the current students who are effectively trapped, powerless to do anything if they decide that they don't like the redefined nature of their academic program.

By changing the rules for current students, the University fundamentally violated the informal agreement it established with students when it advertised the PLME program. "It is disrespectful to the students to change the terms under which we matriculated," said one PLME sophomore.

For the current juniors, the first class subject to the new PLME policy, there is an added economic consequence to the administration's decision. Juniors interested in applying out to other medical schools likely have already expended their own money on MCAT preparation and have already designed their undergraduate academic program to satisfy pre-med requirements. For students who deem that the benefits of applying out are not worth sacrificing a guaranteed space at the Med School, the sacrifices they have made will have been in vain under the administration's policy. "Their extra work will have gone to waste," said the sophomore.

The PLME decision sets a dangerous precedent for these administrative bait-and-switches. The University has apparently deemed it acceptable to make retroactive changes to its academic programs and impose new conditions upon students who never voluntarily accepted them. Though in this instance the PLME students are the unfortunate targets, that newly established precedent is the reason the rest of us have cause for concern.

"The fact that they can simply make an executive decision about something like this sets a precedent for them to make other changes to the basic components of PLME," the same sophomore noted. "It's scary what else they could do." 

Simon Liebling '12 is from New Jersey. He can be reached at simon.liebling (at)


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