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Finances, need-blind admission dominate State of Brown

Paxson discussed several issues, including financial aid and the university-college model

Extending need-blind admission to all students — including international, transfer and Resumed Undergraduate Education students — would cost the University around $250 million, said President Christina Paxson in her State of Brown address Wednesday.

Paxson also highlighted the current state of the ongoing strategic planning process, the evolving relationship between research and undergraduate education and the University’s financial state.

The address, held in Salomon 101, included both remarks from Paxson and a question-and-answer session with students. At times, she deferred questions to other administrators, including Margaret Klawunn, vice president for campus life and student services, and Russell Carey ’91 MA’06, executive vice president for planning and policy.

The University is looking for directed ways to immediately ease the burdens of financial aid, like providing more relief for middle class families and reducing the summer earnings requirements so students can pursue unpaid internships and research opportunities.

Financial aid is always a priority, Paxson said. “I know it’s something students here care about a lot.” In the long term, she said the University is looking to transition to need-blind admission for all students, though she made no firm time commitments.

Full need-blind admission is “a bold thing to propose,” Paxson said, adding that she does not want to “make promises that we have to renege on,” in response to a student question about diversity in economic access.

Paxson’s financial discussion was accompanied by a slideshow that displayed graphs of University revenues and expenditures. Revenue has grown in the past decade, partly due to a 1.1 percent increase in the size of the student body.

Though University finances have been stabilized since the recent economic downturn, it is essential to set the University on steady financial footing for future planning, Paxson said. “You have to get your house in order before you go on to the next big thing.”

“It’s time to look at the next decade in a serious way,” Paxson said as she discussed the six strategic planning committees, which are designed to help her formulate her presidential agenda, with a focus on academics, student life and financial access. “We are approaching this in a very analytical way,” she said.

With Elliot Maxwell ’68, one of the architects of the Open Curriculum in the audience, Paxson addressed “how we can translate the ideas of the Maxwell-Magaziner project in the 21st century.”

Paxson said the introduction of online learning would not turn Brown into a fully online institution, and technology would only appear in classrooms after the University studied the best integration methods. The human interactions gained outside the classroom — which can also play a role in education — should not be lost in this online transition, Paxson said.

The strategic planning committees still have many questions to answer, including where the money for these developments would come from and what divisions of the University actually need to be on College Hill, she said.

Paxson invoked the mission of the University, most importantly the “understanding in a spirit of free inquiry.” Paxson spoke of how she took advantage of the liberal arts opportunities at Swarthmore College as an undergraduate, at times studying English, philosophy and psychology.

While Brown has the resources of a university, it should stay “true to its roots in liberal arts education,” she said, adding that she will continue to emphasize this over the course of her administration.

In Brown’s university-college model, scholarship and education are often perceived as at odds with each other, “but that doesn’t have to be true,” Paxson said. As the University continues to plan, the six committees can find ways to make students part of the research process.

Paxson called the University’s upcoming 250th anniversary a chance to examine Brown’s history, both the good and the bad, and added that the content of the celebrations will be “driven by members of the community.”

More than 10 students volunteered questions as part of the question-and-answer session. Paxson told students the Jewelry District offers interesting opportunities for expansion but the distance is not feasible for students who conduct most of their studies on the Hill. Considerations to potentially move the School of Engineering to the Jewelry District has come under student criticism, The Herald previously reported.

In response to another question, Paxson said a modest amount of student loans “aren’t necessarily a bad thing,” because they constitute investments in students’ futures. Despite this, Paxson said she does not want the average size of loans to grow.

“I learned a couple new things,” Paxson told The Herald regarding the question-and-answer session, adding that she is surprised to see the tension between the liberal arts and pre-professionalism “alive and well.”

Student questions provide useful context for moving forward in the planning process, Paxson said, adding that this will provide specific ways to adjust the reports as they develop in the coming months.

The State of Brown address was established under former President Ruth Simmons in 2010 and is sponsored by the Undergraduate Council of Students.


An earlier version of this article incorrectly said President Christina Paxson deferred some questions to Former Interim Senior Vice President for University Advancement. In fact, Paxson deferred some questions to Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06. The Herald regrets the error.



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