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Corp. approves strategic plan, will not divest from coal

The final version of Paxson’s plan included changes based on community feedback

The Corporation unanimously approved President Christina Paxson’s strategic plan and decided not to divest the University’s endowment from coal companies at its triannual meeting this weekend, Paxson announced in community-wide emails Sunday afternoon.

The approval of “Building on Distinction: A New Plan for Brown,” which Paxson released in September, caps a year-long strategic planning process that served as the centerpiece of her first year in office. The plan positions the University to act on its many initiatives and begin fundraising to support them ahead of Brown’s 250th anniversary next year.

After a year of campus debate and student activism led by Brown Divest Coal, the Corporation’s decision to reject divestiture sparked outcry from some, including calls for further protest.

The final version of the strategic plan includes some changes Paxson made based on community feedback prior to presenting the document to the Corporation. The University’s mission statement, which includes the otherwise absent phrase “university-college,” was added to the front page, and the plan now references bolstering undergraduate advising and graduate student stipends — all omissions that students and faculty members highlighted following the original draft’s release.

Paxson did not make any changes to the plan after meeting this weekend with the Corporation, which approved the version she presented, she told The Herald.

But the Corporation did offer feedback on the plan before its initial release. The governing body convened for a special meeting in August to weigh in on the initial draft, said Chancellor Thomas Tisch ’76.

Among the plan’s largest initiatives soon to be implemented is a proposal, yet to be finalized, for a new institute at Brown focused on the environment and society, which Paxson said she hopes will be established within a year. Partially in response to the Corporation’s decision not to divest from coal companies, she created a task force to investigate how the University can improve its efforts to fight climate change.

In her community-wide email, Paxson cited several of the plan’s other initiatives that will be implemented in the near future, including adjustments to aid policies. Financial aid decisions for international students receiving aid will be recalculated annually, and the administration will expand its support for summer internships and set aside $500,000 to reduce summer earnings expectations for some students on financial aid.

Academics will begin to see changes as early as next semester with the Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning forming a Laboratory for Educational Innovation to support online learning at Brown. And associate professors who recently gained tenure will work under a new sabbatical policy, spearheaded by the Office of the Dean of the Faculty.

Sophomores will soon have the option to participate in a designated seminar program focused on diversity, identity and justice. Though Paxson wrote that the program would start next fall, Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron said in an interview that the first two seminars are expected to be offered next semester, with the program expanding to roughly 15 courses next year. A request for proposals will be sent out by the end of this semester, Bergeron said.

The unanimous vote of approval for Paxson’s plan came after a strategic session Friday, a full-body meeting Saturday and many smaller discussions within specific committees, Paxson said.

Provost Mark Schlissel P’15 said the moment when the Corporation voted to approve the plan was especially memorable. “Corporation members are excited about having a vision for what direction we think Brown’s going to go over the coming decade, and they’re anxious to help,” he said.

Through the planning, “Brown came together as a community and showed ambition but also sensitivity to who we are,” he said. “It’s something I’m enormously proud of.”

The administration will next begin to focus on the timing and implementation of the plan’s specific components and corresponding fundraising efforts, Schlissel said.

Though no timeline for a capital campaign has been established and fundraising is continuous, Paxson said, “having a plan does make fundraising easier because it allows us to sharpen our priorities and communicate more clearly about what we’re doing and why it’s important to the future of the University.”

A new committee convened by Schlissel and chaired by Dean of the Graduate School Peter Weber is currently evaluating the potential ways in which Brown might expand its master’s program offerings. Schlissel said the committee will likely release recommendations by early next semester.

This was a year of unusually high turnover for the Corporation, as many term and alum trustees — two groups with different term lengths — changed over simultaneously, Tisch said.

It was the “biggest turnover year that I remember,” Tisch said, adding that “it was wonderful to see new voices and fresh perspectives in the room.”

The Corporation also accepted more than $53 million total in gifts, including a $15 million donation and a roughly $5.2 million donation to the Donor-Advised Fund, both contributed anonymously and for purposes yet to be decided by the donors.

Acting on faculty recommendations, the Corporation approved a new PhD program in behavioral and social sciences. The body also established new professorships in modern India studies and engineering, both of which are already funded.

About 150 faculty members, donors and Corporation members attended a celebration of the newly established School of Public Health Friday evening, said Terrie Fox Wetle, the school’s dean. The Corporation approved two public health-related gifts totaling several million dollars this weekend, and Wetle said she is also excited about the interdisciplinary health focus of several proposals in Paxson’s plan.


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