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Mike Johnson '11: Hey, we have humanities here, too

Recent efforts to approve a proposal to create an engineering school are laudable. Approval would increase the intellectual capital of the University while simultaneously helping Brown join the ranks of all the other Ivy League institutions with engineering schools. It will pull graduate students to Brown who would never have looked here before, helping to constantly improve and expand on the program. Yet unfortunately, the fight for the proposal's approval reveals a troubling trend on campus.

Recently, the University has been focusing on pumping money into the sciences at Brown, perhaps to the detriment of the humanities. The science resource center on the third floor of the Sciences Library is just the newest incarnation of dedicated facilities for the sciences. While the center is open to students of all disciplines, the naming and location of a state-of-the-art study center isn't to be ignored.

Meanwhile, in the basement of the SciLi is the Friedman Study Center, an innocuously-named, inviting place to go wait in line while someone prints a million pages worth of poorly photocopied readings.

Now this isn't meant to discount the need for investment in science education. As the world globalizes politically and economically, and as the United States transitions further into a high-tech economy, the need to educate our youth in the sciences increases. In order to remain competitive, we need the business and research leaders of tomorrow to know how a fiber-optic cable works, or what a nanoparticle is.

And to be fair, the sciences are a cash cow. Research grants and corporate sponsorships fund amazing opportunities for undergraduates and graduates alike, and draw noted professors in every field. These grants spill over indirectly into the humanities, as money that doesn't need to be spent in the sciences can be spent elsewhere.

While the number of libraries devoted to literature and the other humanities outnumber the SciLi, they aren't really comparable. The John Hay brings prestige, but it is a closed-stack, rare books library, usually foreign to most of the students who attend Brown. The John Carter Brown Library is similar. The Rockefeller Library, however — let's just say it's not the same as the SciLi. 

The Friedman Study Center has won multiple awards for its aesthetics, while the Rock's study spaces are cafeteria tables with computers on them. The classrooms in the Rock are dismal, unadorned, monastic cells stowed away in the stacks that make Friday afternoon seminars almost impossible to attend. They're furnished with what looks like whatever chairs and tables Brown could get at a yard sale. By comparison, the shiny new science center has SMART boards that probably don't smell like a combination of chalk, 1970s textbooks and despair.

Granted, the Watson Institute for International Studies is renowned, and the Pembroke Center is groundbreaking, both adding to the credibility of the humanities at Brown. However, what is troubling is that although Brown is making efforts to end its dubious honor of being the only Ivy League school without a school of engineering, our University will remain one of two in the Ivy League without law or business schools.

The oft-given reason for this deficiency is that Brown's charter stipulates that the school would be for the "education in the vernacular and learned languages, and in the liberal arts and sciences," in which law and business are not typically included. However, the charter also describes the purpose of a liberal education to be "preserving in the community a succession of men duly qualified for discharging the offices of life with usefulness and reputation." Surely the study of the laws of our nation and those of other nations is one of the offices of life.

Brown's charter hasn't been amended since 1942, when the Corporation decided it was a bad idea to fill trustee positions based on religious affiliation. Surely the charter can be reinterpreted to allow the study of law, one of the oldest and most prestigious studies. If they're worried about cash, I can assure the Corporation that law school tuition is appropriately exorbitant across the nation. Since there is seemingly a push to see tomorrow's innovators coming out of Brunonia's halls, it seems just as important to push for tomorrow's chief justices and senators, maybe even a president, to stride through the Van Wickle Gates.

In today's community we see a complete disrespect and ignorance of the rule of law, and of the spirit in which many of our nation's laws are interpreted. We constantly change the way we view the hallowed words of the Declaration of Independence and of the Constitution. Should not Brown be part of that conversation? We've seen the way those who graduate with law degrees from Harvard or Yale deal with those questions, and that's certainly not working out.

Mike Johnson '11 is simply too lazy to apply to other law schools.


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