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Forum offers details, feedback on operational plan

President Christina Paxson P’19 stresses plan’s focus on people as Provost Richard Locke P’17 talks fundraising

The University will spend more than $1 billion over the next decade on investments in people as it pursues the “Operational Plan for Building Brown’s Excellence,” said President Christina Paxson P’19 at an open forum Monday afternoon.

The plan “focuses on investing in the people who make up Brown — the faculty, the staff, the students,” Paxson said.

Investing in people also involves investing in financial aid, endowed faculty chairs, graduate fellowships and diversity, Paxson told The Herald.

Paxson and Provost Richard Locke P’17 hosted the open forum to solicit community feedback on the plan, a document aimed at realizing the goals of Paxson’s 10-year strategic plan, “Building on Distinction.”

The operational plan will guide the University’s upcoming major fundraising campaign, scheduled to launch Oct. 23, Locke said.

A total of $845 million has already been raised, Paxson said. 

After providing a basic overview of the operational plan and its main goals, Paxson and Locke opened the floor to questions from audience members.

“I see a lot of faculty and administrators (here), but not a lot of students,” said Candice Ellis ’16.

Ellis asked the senior administrators how they planned to inform students of the plan. The University’s campus-wide emails “are great, but a lot of students don’t read them,” she said.

Twenty-three of the 25 students approached by The Herald admitted to never having heard of the operational plan.

“If we are invited, we would love to come and talk to any student group about the plan,” Locke said.

Paxson said she did “wish there were more” students in the audience of at least 200 people, but she added that it is still early in the process.

Other questions from audience members addressed the operational plan’s goals for diversity, financial aid, graduate student support and research infrastructure.

“We have taken on the role of what I would call a feeder college,” said Professor of Chemistry Gerald Diebold. “There is a distortion of priorities where undergraduate aid takes much more precedence over building a graduate school,” he said.

The University grants financial aid to undergraduate students, and after graduation the strongest students will be accepted to graduate programs at “the best universities,” thus strengthening their programs, he said. Diebold named Harvard and Stanford as two such universities. “How come you guys are so out of touch with what goes on in graduate programs in the physical sciences?” he asked.

“I will not back down on supporting undergraduate financial aid,” Paxson said, followed by audience applause.

In fact, according to the operational plan, “in the coming decade, Brown will enhance the generosity of financial aid packages for lower- and middle-income students and increase financial aid for international students.”

The phrase “middle-income” refers not to national middle-income families but to Brown’s middle-income families, which Paxson told The Herald earn between $100,000 and $200,000 a year.

“We already have very generous financial aid for the income bracket below that, so this is additional attention to that middle bracket,” Vice President for Communications Cass Cliatt told The Herald.

For international students, the University will eventually “hit a level where we are effectively need-blind,” Paxson told The Herald.

“We need to strengthen financial aid so that all students who come to Brown have what they need to be successful,” she said.

Both Locke and Paxson emphasized during the forum that the University will continue supporting components absent from the plan, such as student health and safety,” Paxson said. These are “basic duties” supported by the operating budget, she said.

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