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Poll shows split opinion on U.’s population growth proposal

Central concerns include dorm and eatery capacity, changes to Brown’s community atmosphere

Undergraduates are divided on President Christina Paxson’s proposal in her strategic plan to increase the total student and faculty population by approximately 1 percent each year over the next decade, according to a Herald poll conducted April 14 - 18.

Almost 34 percent of respondents approved of the proposal, with 7 percent strongly agreeing and 27 percent somewhat agreeing. Thirty-three percent of respondents disagreed, with 9 percent strongly disagreeing and 24 percent somewhat disagreeing.

“I’m not surprised that there is a divergence of opinion,” said Provost Mark Schlissel P’15. While some students do not pay enough attention to University initiatives to form opinions on them, Paxson’s proposal is “the kind of issue where there will be legitimate interest and disagreement among people who are paying attention,” he said.

Some students expressed concern that the increase in student population would change the campus atmosphere.

“I think part of the appeal of Brown is the university-college, and by increasing the population it would be more of a university or a large institution,” said Chanelle Adams ’15, a former Herald contributing writer, adding that she disapproved of the proposal.

With just over 6,000 undergraduates, the University offers a dynamic and exciting environment that does not overwhelm students, Schlissel said. “I think it’s in a sweet spot, and we certainly don’t want to give that up.”

The proposal is constrained to a time frame of 10 years partly to ensure that the campus and class atmospheres will be maintained, Schlissel said.

Other students said they are not worried about the potential growth in the student population and that an increase in the faculty population would be beneficial.

“It doesn’t seem like 1 percent would make a significant difference to student life,” said Rukmini Chatterjee ’14.

About 80 percent of those who strongly agreed with the proposed growth plans were non-humanities concentrators, according to the poll. Similarly, 48 percent of those who strongly disagreed were humanities concentrators, while only 16 percent were physical science concentrators.

The divergence in opinion between humanities and non-humanities concentrators may be related to biology and computer science’s rise in popularity as the top two declaration choices among sophomores, said John Savage, professor of computer science.

Several undergrads and faculty members told The Herald they supported an increase in the faculty population, because it would promote research and smaller class sizes.

An increase in faculty would cut down the number of large classes and provide undergrads with more opportunities to interact with their professors, said Maria Fletcher ’17.

Gerald Diebold, professor of chemistry, said an increase in faculty “wouldn’t hurt” the chemistry department and would be beneficial to faculty research and graduate students.

The proposal is driven by a number of factors, of which the most important is finances, Schlissel said.

On one hand, the University wants to raise revenue by moderately increasing the student body instead of raising tuition, Schlissel said. On the other hand, the University strives to maintain its intimate character driven by small class sizes, which means the number of faculty members needs to increase as well.

“The idea is to do this proportionately,” Schlissel said, adding that expanding class offerings and boosting faculty research are other factors driving the proposal.

Some students expressed concern about how the University would be able to physically accommodate a bigger population.

Fletcher said she worries about future accommodations given that some undergrads currently live in lounges and kitchens due to the lack of residential space. “How do you plan on increasing the population if you don’t even have enough room for them?”

“I have serious reservations about … the University’s capabilities to absorb the increase in student population,” Savage said..

“Dorm and eatery capacity is a concern,” Schlissel said. Since more upperclassmen request permission for off-campus housing than is allowed, granting more juniors permission to live off-campus could ameliorate the issue, he said.

The University has the responsibility to discuss a potential increase in off-campus housing permission with the Providence community because it has direct consequences for the surrounding area, Savage said.

Some students said they believe boosting the undergrad population could drive up Brown’s acceptance rate.

Gregory Cho ’17 said the proposal is appealing because it could help increase Brown’s accessibility for high school seniors.

“There is a strong argument to be made for increasing the number of students who can benefit from the opportunities at Brown,” Savage said.

Many students said they did not have strong opinions on the proposal, because they did not understand the motivation behind it. “I don’t really see a problem with it … but I would still want to know more,” said Uzoamaka Okoro ’16.

The proposal found more favorable reception among faculty members than undergrads, with 58 percent of faculty respondents indicating they supported the measure in a Herald faculty poll conducted April 14 - 18. Approximately 19 percent expressed strong agreement, and roughly 39 percent expressed moderate agreement. Around 12 percent somewhat disagreed, and 5 percent strongly disagreed. About a quarter of faculty respondents indicated that they had no opinion.

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