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Toward the end of the fall semester, The Herald published a four-part series entitled "Mission Drift?" that examined how the University has changed during the tenure of President Ruth Simmons and what those changes might mean for the future of our university-college. In addition to being an unexpected but welcome departure from more traditional Herald coverage, it is perhaps the only place where one can begin to understand Simmons' Plan for Academic Enrichment in a broader context, and how this vision for the University's future differs markedly from that of some of her predecessors.

As the series notes, the Magaziner-Maxwell Report, which was published in 1967 and ultimately led to the formation of the New Curriculum, suggests that institutional self-study is an important part of University activity. While the "Mission Drift?" series is in no way an attempt at serious self-study, it does serve as a good starting point for reflecting on both the present state of our institution — a natural first step in the self-study process — and what might happen after Simmons steps down at the end of the academic year.

The last piece concludes by saying that the University's 19th president will have to decide between a more outward focus — that is, emphasis on rankings and revenue — and a more inward one, where the undergraduate educational experience reemerges as the most important priority. While there might be something to be gained from framing the presidential search in this way, or even as a choice between someone who will continue in the same vein as Simmons and someone who envisions something different, it seems to oversimplify matters.

Earlier in the series, Provost Mark Schlissel P'15 offers, albeit indirectly, another possibility. He says Brown's mission statement must be "interpreted in each generation anew, but it's written in a way that's broad and ambitious and aspirational, that can meet each generation's interpretation." And here seems to be a more useful criterion by which to judge a potential presidential candidate — whether he or she can interpret the mission statement in a way that not only corresponds to student interpretations but also indicates a willingness to explore opportunities presented by ever-developing technology.

Lawrence Summers, former president of Harvard, wrote an essay published in the New York Times earlier this year in which he speculates on potential changes to the educational system. Setting aside the fact that Summers has had some questionable views on differences between the sexes and that Harvard is one of the universities the "Mission Drift?" series accuses Brown of imitating, there are some worthwhile observations, including ideas about learning to process information rather than impart it, increasing collaborative efforts and integrating the benefits of advanced technology.

I am not suggesting that Spencer Stuart, the search firm assisting the presidential search committees, give Summers a call. I only mention his name as a recent example of someone who is thinking about how higher education can evolve in the 21st century — a trait the new president on College Hill ought to possess. The same openness that characterizes our curriculum and supposedly pervades our self-proclaimed liberal environment should also extend to new possibilities for developing the Brown education. As the "Mission Drift?" series rightly suggests, growth does not need to be the sole measure of development.

The series is also right to question the extent to which the changes enacted by President Simmons had some sort of philosophical underpinning. In an institution with a history that includes President Henry Wriston's outline for a university-college and the Magaziner-Maxwell Report, the absence is conspicuous. The Plan for Academic Enrichment, which is essentially the hallmark of President Simmons' tenure, seems to offer goals rather than the reasons for having such goals.

For me, the most telling quote to emerge from the series came not from Simmons but from Dean of Admission Jim Miller '73, who said Brown is now a "high-powered research university" and that "the university-college concept is not as relevant to people." It remains unclear how the University, with what appears to be an increased focus on growth and peer imitation, can maintain the distinctive character that brought so many of us to College Hill.

As responsible journalists, the series' reporters included a question mark within the title of their series in order to allow readers to draw their own conclusions. As someone who played no part in the development of the series and whose sole responsibility as an opinions writer is to ensure his opinions are clear, I feel there is no need to include the question mark.  

Sam Carter '12 encourages everyone to read the "Mission Drift?" series. He can be reached at



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