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Faculty approves three-year Winter Session pilot

Paxson also presents on working draft of diversity and inclusion plan at monthly faculty meeting

The University will begin implementing plans for a three-year Winter Session trial, with the goal of a January 2017 launch, following a unanimous vote for the initiative at a faculty meeting Tuesday.

It is likely that between seven and nine courses will be offered the first year, said Dean of the College Maud Mandel, adding that each course will involve 48 contact hours.

Motions for the creation of the Hassenfeld Child Health Innovation Institute, the removal of academic warnings from official transcripts once a student re-enters good academic standing and cross-enrollment procedures between certification and degree programs also passed unanimously.

A large portion of the the meeting was also dedicated to discussion, led by President Christina Paxson P’19, of the University’s plan for diversity and inclusion released Nov. 19.

Planning for Winter Session will begin immediately and be assisted by an employee in the Office of the Dean of the College whose primary job will be to launch the new program, Mandel said. Full financial aid will be offered to students who enroll in Winter Session, with the cost of enrollment equaling “the full cost of a Brown credit,” she said.

Necessary infrastructure such as dining services, Counseling and Psychological Services and Student and Employee Accessibility Services already have on-campus presence over winter break due to the sizable number of athletes and international students on campus in January, Mandel said. But they will require small expansions, which will create co-curricular opportunities and improve living conditions for all those at Brown over winter break, she added.

Faculty members will need to obtain departmental permission to offer a Winter Session course, as teaching a course will count as a teaching requirement they would otherwise need to fulfill during the regular academic year, Mandel said.

At the end of the three-year trial period, the program will be evaluated for financial viability and student interest among other criteria. The goal is for the University to break even, with the hope but not the assumption that this will be the case, Mandel said. “My personal hope is that it will be good for students, good for faculty and not lose money for the University,” she added.

Paxson presented “Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion: An Action Plan for Brown University,” which is currently open to student and faculty feedback and will be the focus of a special faculty forum next week.

“It’s been a really rocky fall,” she said, adding that students across the country “are angry, they’re upset, they do not feel welcome at universities.” Some of Brown students’ grievances are global, but some are specific instances of discrimination and exclusion on campus, Paxson said. Though the plan responds to recent events, Paxson emphasized that it was not solely reactive in that it includes already implemented and previously developed ideas.

The plan aims for improvement in four areas: campus community, investments in people, academic leadership and accountability.

In conversations with individuals who were engaged in activism at Brown during the 1960s, Paxson was specifically asked how the plan would differ from past efforts, she said.

“When you look at earlier plans, they start with, ‘The President will do this. The Provost will do this.’ It doesn’t say what the faculty will do,” Paxson said, adding that she believes the emphasis on faculty involvement will set the initiative apart and lay the foundation for real change.

One crucial aspect of faculty engagement comes through improved training, Paxson said. With an increasingly diverse student body, “to be better teachers, to be better advisors, we need to say: ‘What do we need to do differently?’” she said.

Professor of Physics James Valles voiced a concern that the plan still appears “very administratively driven,” leaving faculty members unable to ensure that students of all backgrounds can leave their class inspired and engaged.

Ken Miller ’70 P’02, professor of biology, said he felt one of the most important aspects of the report was the push to add more people of color to the faculty, adding that the sciences see a three-to-one ratio of students from underrepresented backgrounds to faculty members from underrepresented backgrounds.

Professor of Neuroscience Samuel Greenblatt questioned how this would be accomplished. Mandel and Provost Richard Locke P’17 pointed to existing programs and those being developed to lead students of color in all fields toward PhDs.

Each department will need to implement the plan according to its own academic needs, Paxson said, adding that departments will be reviewed but encouraged to be creative in order to avoid a top-down process.

Faculty members are looking for ways to best further inclusivity, but there still exists “discomfort with how we talk to each other about (issues of inclusivity) within our departments,” said Nancy Khalek, associate professor of religious studies.

Members of the University need to “get over the idea that diversity plans are adding sprinkles to ice cream,” when they are “reforming the nature of the ice cream itself,” she said, adding that in order to do this, the administration needs to hold conversational trainings before the release of the campus climate survey this upcoming spring.

The Hassenfeld Child Health Innovation Institute, announced in September, will enter its planning stage following its unanimous approval at the meeting. With only one medical school, one public health school, one children’s hospital and one women and infants’ hospital in Rhode Island, the Hassenfeld Institute represents an important opportunity to “train the next generation of child health leaders that will hopefully come from different departments,” a faculty member said.

Following the faculty’s unanimous vote, academic warnings will no longer stay on students’ external transcripts following a return to good academic standing. The previous policy was “out of line with other parts of the transcript” given that failures do not show up on external transcripts, and it stigmatized students who had shown the ability to work hard to regain standing, Mandel said. The new measure will retroactively remove academic warnings from transcripts dating back to 1983, the first year included in the database of transcript records.

The meeting concluded with a question from a faculty member regarding the fulfillment of Title IX faculty training and the alleged assault of a Dartmouth student by a Department of Public Safety officer. The training, mandatory for all faculty and staff members, is 77.2 percent complete, Paxson said, adding that those who have not completed it yet will be contacted shortly.

She said she could not comment on the ongoing investigation into the DPS officer involved in the incident, she said, but that she hopes the investigation will be completed by the end of the semester. DPS keeps detailed statistics on stops and student engagements broken down by race and while the “numbers look good, clearly there’s something else going on,” Paxson said.


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