The proposal to create a school of engineering at Brown is about to pass through the final stages of approval, nearly two years since the first version was written before summer 2008. Provost David Kertzer '69 P'95 P'98 said the Academic Priorities Committee, on which he serves, gave a "thumbs up to this proposal" at a Feb. 2 meeting. Following a faculty forum on March 9 and pending approval at a faculty vote on April 6, the Corporation will make the final decision in May.
There is no national accrediting body for engineering schools, according to Kertzer. Steps outlined in the proposal, including the hiring of new faculty and the construction of a building, would be carried out as funding becomes available, he said.
In 2008, the engineering program at Brown ranked 43rd in the nation, according to U.S. News and World Report. The decision to propose a school comes on the heels of the formation of Schools of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Yale in 2007 and Harvard in 2008. Though it has the oldest engineering program in the Ivy League, Brown is now the only university in the league without a school of engineering.
The school would be an expansion of the Division of Engineering rather than a separate entity with an independent admissions process. Requirements for the bachelor of science degree, now 21 courses, would be consistent as the transition occurs. The school would "not disturb full integration of engineering with the arts and sciences," Kertzer said.
In particular, the proposal includes initiatives to foster collaboration between engineering and other sciences, both physical and biological. "All the sciences could benefit," Kertzer said.
Though 100,000 square feet of new space for the sciences is part of the proposal, a school of engineering would occupy only 35 percent of a renovated or newly constructed building. The remainder would likely be occupied by the other sciences, Kertzer said.
In addition to highlighting the potential for practical interdisciplinary research, the proposal touts the Division's research relationships with several businesses. "With no business school at Brown, the Division serves as the seat of entrepreneurship, business leadership and technology management at the University," the proposal states. For instance, it is the Division that maintains the "largest corporate partnership on campus," a 10-year, $5-million research contract with General Motors. The proposal cites the technology track in the Commerce, Organization, and Entrepreneurship concentration as one that may be improved by a stronger engineering department.
The cost of the school would total $100 million, with $35 million allotted for space, $50 million for faculty and staff and $15 million for program development. Twelve additional faculty members would be hired over five years in the areas of micro- and nano-technologies, biomedical engineering, and in energy, environment and infrastructure.
Six staff members would be hired for administration.
The bulk of the cost is likely to be achieved through gifts, Kertzer said.
The proposal serves the dual goals of offering more courses and improving the research capacity of the University, according to Kertzer, who said those objectives were linked.
"The more research, the more excitement for undergraduates to get involved as a part of their education," he said.
Combining research capacity and education is also reflected in the projected rise in graduate student enrollment, one of the key fundraising strategies of the proposal. The financial projection accounts for 36 new doctoral candidates and 40 new master's students.
An overdue expansion
Professor of Engineering Rodney Clifton, interim dean of the division of engineering, said growth at this point would be vital to retaining faculty, attracting students and winning research grants. To conduct exciting research, "you need to have a certain critical mass," he said. "We're so small that it's hard."
The lack of the title of "school" also diminishes the engineering program's visibility, Clifton said. "Graduate students look up schools of engineering. Brown is not on that list."
But the program is well-poised for expansion. Clifton said there are many engineering graduates, parents and companies with an engineering focus that might be interested in giving to a new school. The financial boost that the school could generate could further improvements that the Division has been keen on since a self-study in 1999, he said.
Since Barus and Holley was built in 1965, no new space has been specially allotted to engineering at Brown, though satellite labs exist in Metcalf Research Laboratory, Wayland Square and 2 Stimson St.
"This space is just not appropriate space for the kind of work that people do now," Clifton said. Engineers now increasingly work with nanoscale materials, which require technologies that the current laboratories are not equipped for. The building is also at capacity for the installation of fume hoods and lasers. "The building has been pushed to its limits," Clifton said.
When asked why engineering had been relatively neglected at Brown, Clifton, who arrived at the University in 1964, replied, "It's a historical thing." Princeton, for example, has traditionally emphasized engineering. About 18 to 20 percent of the Princeton student body is composed of engineering students, compared to 5 to 7 percent at Brown, he said.
Clifton, who was here when the New Curriculum was instituted, speculated that engineering may have been sidelined because administrators perceived the field as too professional.
"We were larger then than we are now," he said. In the 1960s, there was a larger faculty that could bring in sufficient grants to support salaries and research. As the federal government began to reduce the proportion of grants allotted to academic salaries and the University did not compensate, the division was compelled to reduce many 11-month appointments to nine-month appointments, thereby losing faculty members.
Clifton said he believes engineering is not contradictory to the idea of a liberal arts education. "Engineering is a good foundation education," he said, noting that graduates can go on to work in a variety of fields because they learn to solve problems and think inventively.
Though the establishment of engineering schools at Harvard and Yale "added the impetus" to the proposal, Clifton said, "that's not sufficient reason."
"We kind of stand out as not showing the world that Brown is committed to engineering," he said. "It helps the overall impression of the University to have a full-fledged program."
Clifton said he's visited a number of universities, including Dartmouth and Yale, that recently founded engineering schools for ideas.
Clifton said it has been difficult to convince the administration over the years that engineering merits expansion. The original proposal, from the summer of 2008, was "bigger, less specific" — notably requesting that 23 additional faculty be hired, he said. The current proposal has been scaled back by half.
Pushing the proposal forward
One of the major steps toward introducing the proposal has been the creation of the Engineering Advisory Council. President Ruth Simmons appoints engineering graduates to the council, which itself "took a while to get approved," Clifton said. The EAC reports to the Provost annually about the state of engineering.
The strategy team that wrote the proposal includes selected members of the faculty and EAC.
After the struggle to get the proposal to this point, Clifton said he is feeling positive about the proposal's success. "I'm sure there is opposition" among the faculty, he said. "But generally, they were supportive. The biggest concern that people have is that we might take away resources that could be used for their programs." But because collaboration between other sciences and engineering is p
art of the proposal, other sciences stand to benefit.
Clifton added that the Corporation members he had spoken to were also supportive of the proposal, especially because the school is expected to generate much of its own budget through gifts and grants.
It would be unfortunate if the proposal weren't passed in its current form, Clifton said. The proposal itself cautions that the University risks being set further back if nothing changes in the division.
"It needs to be done," Clifton said. "Brown would have been more out in front had we done it earlier," but the creation of a school is better late than never, he added.
The first step would be a search process for a new dean who could serve for "an appreciable period of time" and "help establish the character of the school," Clifton said.
Richard Spies, executive vice president for planning and senior adviser to the president, who would begin dealing with the proposal if the Corporation passes it, said phasing will be an important part of implementing the proposal. Portions of the proposal must be realized in "meaningful bites," he said. The authors of the proposal are moving in "a very good direction," he added.
Gov. Donald Carcieri '65 has written a letter to Simmons expressing his support for the proposal. He wrote, "Innovative graduates and faculty members have created local companies that have employed hundreds of Rhode Islanders," with the implication that a school of engineering would assist the state economy by turning the city into a hub for technology.