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Enzerink GS: The dual soul of Brown

Brown has traditionally been an institution that acknowledges the value of both undergraduate and graduate education but values even more the ways in which the two can complement and enhance each other. The College and the Graduate School are the perfect Hegelian synthesis, together adding up to more than the sum of their respective parts. This complimentary relationship is key to safeguarding what opinions columnist Garret Johnson '14 called "the soul of the University" ("Open Letter to Christina Paxson," March 12).

Historically, the University has a long tradition of navigating a balanced course between scholarship and education. Like it was one of the first institutions of higher learning in the then British colonies, Brown also became one of the earliest doctoral granting institutions in the United States. After a short-lived master's option in the 1850s,  the first master's degrees were granted in 1888, and the first doctorates the year after that. President-elect Paxson indicated that part of her attraction to Brown stems from this longstanding dual commitment to supporting both "the best educational program for undergraduates" and "world-class research."

The entire University community today reaps the benefits from this investment in scholarship and teaching. This dialectic between the two constituencies is most clearly visible on the teaching level. All undergraduates will have at least one experience with a TA teaching a class session. This ensures that more students can enroll in the courses of their choice and also that the amount of options and diversity in the curriculum can be maintained. This system allows for more personal feedback, especially on written assignments, and thus enables students to practice and improve their (transferable) skills. The presence of a TA also unburdens the professor's workload in all allowing for more personal guidance than if just one professor were responsible for hundreds of students.

The benefits are reciprocal. Graduate students, many of whom aspire to a career in academia, can hone their teaching skills through the guidance of senior staff and the feedback from the undergraduates that enroll in their courses. There is no better way to learn the craft of being a university professor than the witnessing of and participation in one of the finest undergraduate instruction environments in the country.

As such, both groups - and by extension the University - benefit from this dual focus. The cooperation also secures Brown's status as a global intellectual powerhouse, as state-of-the-art research facilities and the presence of excelling graduate students are major draws for renowned faculty. They will in turn assume teaching responsibilities in the undergraduate segment, further fortifying the University's reputation for top-notch undergraduate offerings, and the circle is complete. It is truly a win-win-win situation.
There is an increasing number of initiatives to ensure that the academic fusion of the communities also carries over into the extracurricular realm. Organizations more actively seek to incorporate graduate students into their ranks, and conversely, more graduate students themselves are eager to join the wealth of cultural, athletic and social groups active on campus.
For example, a special night for master's students, organized by the Graduate Student Council's master's advocate Alissa Haddaji - to take place Thursday March 22 starting at five o'clock PM  in Petteruti Lounge - will tie together the useful and the pleasant. Many campus resources, such as CareerLAB, are currently utilized predominantly by the undergraduate demographic. The night will inform master's students about such resources as well as opportunities to join social organizations like the Brown Culinary Palette or The Herald. Visibility promotes a shared identity and mission. And, to use Jacob Riis' famous phrase, what better way to see "how the other half lives" than by encountering them in the kitchen while baking apple pie. It is by becoming more visible to one another that the two groups can imagine themselves as one community with a shared mission, even though they play different roles in the University.
Therefore, I would suggest that what Johnson '14 identified as the "the soul of the university" is in fact only half of it. A focus on graduate students cannot be equated with "betraying" school spirit, as he seems to suggest, since a distinct blend of undergraduate and graduate educational goals are at the heart of the University's mission. Attention to graduate scholarship is not in a mutually exclusive relationship with a continued commitment to Brown's unique undergraduate curriculum.
The University's academic prosperity is then not a question of either/or, but of both/and. Each group propels the other to a higher level, and together they make Brown soar.  

 

Suzanne Enzerink is a master's student in American Studies and speaks only on her own behalf. Different interpretations as to what constitutes the soul of the university are welcomed at suzanne_enzerink@brown.edu


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