Brown University News Bureau

The Brown University News Bureau

1997-1998 index

Distributed February 3, 1998
Contact: Mark Nickel


To: Senior Staff Members
From: E. Gordon Gee
Re: External Review Summary
Date: November 24, 1997

Summary of external review of Brown University

As you know, Frank Rhodes, Pat McPherson, and Len Schlesinger visited Brown over the past two months to provide me with an independent overview of the University along with some recommendations about how to move forward. I am grateful to you for the thoughtfulness and candor that characterized your conversations with them. They each sent me informal notes about their visits, and we met at the end of October for extensive discussion. Rather than ask them for a formal report, I decided that it would be a useful exercise for me to summarize their thoughts for myself and you. What follows then is my synthesis of our visitors' observations and recommendations, and some of my own thoughts, ideas and plans.


Brown has numerous strengths, among them: its unique and powerful undergraduate curriculum; its excellent faculty and students; its culture of integrating teaching, research, scholarly work, and service; its reputation as a lively community where ideas are debated forthrightly; and its attractive geographical location, physical plant and setting. They were uniform in their judgment that President Emeritus Gregorian leaves the institution immensely popular with students and faculty, financially healthy, and widely respected for its unique approach to learning. Were these strengths not so great and widely known, the problems and issues identified might be taking a greater toll on Brown's capacity to achieve its potential and to reach for its own definition of greatness. Nonetheless, working independently of each other, the reviewers arrived at similar diagnoses of problems that I should address with the support of the university community. They noted that most of these problems are already widely known and acknowledged, and that faculty and staff seem eager to address them. Given this positive environment, the reviewers urged that I not spend time detailing the problems. Instead, they suggested that I set forth a course of action that, by the end of the leadership transition, will result in a stronger, more effective institution. That is our challenge.

The recommendations below fall into three categories:

In reading the recommendations below, you should remember that our reviewers focused largely on the academic heart of the institution, not on its fiscal planning, external relations, development, alumni affairs, Corporation, or administrative and other services. As you know, I am seeking advice elsewhere about some of those areas.


The recommendations below constitute my sense of items that should be at the head of the list.

1. The College. The College is the jewel in Brown's crown, and as such deserves to be nurtured, supported, and not taken for granted. That said, we should not be complacent about the success of the Brown curriculum and the undergraduate experience. While the reviewers and I are in firm agreement that strengthening our graduate programs not come at the expense of the undergraduate program, they were equally strong in arguing that there should be a plan for continuous assessment of the College in such areas as course offerings, concentrations, advising, the undergraduate research program, the academic deanery, and associated co-curricular activities and services.

2. Senior Administration. We should ensure that the responsibilities and reporting relationships of senior academic officers are simple and clear. We should also ensure that work loads and responsibilities are equitably distributed, and that goals and criteria for performance evaluation are known by all. Vital lines of communication should be opened and structures established that promote and reward team-work and collaboration across lines of authority at all levels, not just up and down the hierarchy. Ambiguities about authority should be resolved, and clear assignments made; systems of accountability should not result in time-consuming or excessive bureaucracy. And, finally, the president's executive staff should bring together those areas of responsibility and issues most appropriate for his decisions and attention. As you know, I have already taken steps to review the structure, job responsibilities, and reporting relationships of the academic administration.

3. Graduate Programs. Brown should apply the same open-minded, "out of the box" thinking about graduate programs that has made its undergraduate programs such a success. Building on the strategic plan, we should make hard choices about graduate programs drawing on imaginative combinations of existing areas of strength. Mounting traditional graduate programs across the university is neither right for Brown, nor a contribution to higher education nationally. Building interdisciplinary graduate programs in highly selected areas of strength and future growth is not only possible at Brown, but would allow Brown to take a leadership role nationally in an area much in need of fresh approaches - both because of the academic labor market and the explosion of research that crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries. Brown should also seize the opportunity afforded by rethinking graduate education to explore the development of professional master's level programs.

4. Medical School. The medical school poses some of our greatest and most immediate challenges because of rapid and complex changes in the external health care environment in New England. The recent positive visit of the Joint Liaison Committee on Medical Education confirms the excellence of the innovations for which the Brown Medical School has earned its reputation. However, we must seize control of the future. An additional external review is in order to raise questions and make recommendations about the focus, quality, niche and comparative advantage of the Medical School in the environment of academic medicine.

5. Faculty Personnel Issues. We must address questions raised in the strategic plan and elsewhere about personnel issues - the percent of tenured faculty, the structure and process of decision-making for hiring, promotion and tenure (departmental and ConFRaT); the allocation and reallocation of lines; the development of a statement of institutional standards for promotion and tenure, and the best strategy for attracting candidates for faculty positions. We should phase in a post tenure review process appropriate to Brown. We should pay particular attention to Brown's record in hiring and retaining minority faculty. We should review the size of the faculty in relation to the plethora of courses, departments, institutes and centers, and gather sufficient data to decide whether Brown is stretched too thin in some academic areas.

6. Academic Leadership. There must be considerable attention given to the creation and development of academic leadership opportunities both to "grow" new leaders from inside and to yield a greater understanding of the creative and community-building aspects of academic administration. Too few Brown faculty have experienced the satisfactions that can result from playing an academic leadership role for some portion of one's academic career. Brown should engage faculty and academic administrators in the development of a plan and program to strengthen internal leadership, including a more comprehensive set of expectations at the hiring point, a strong orientation program for new faculty and department chairs, and on-going professional development opportunities for chairs, institute and center directors, and senior academic administrators. It is especially important to draw in to leadership roles newly tenured associate professors who constitute the future leadership of the university.

7. Centers and Institutes. Brown should have a clearer sense of the role of centers and institutes at the University, and criteria for the establishment of new ones. Furthermore, not all the centers and institutes that have blossomed over the last several decades have evolved to be of world class quality and significance. Although reviewing them has been on the list of action items for some years, the issues they raise have not been addressed. Brown should carry out a systematic review of centers and institutes to ensure that they have clear goals which contribute to Brown's mission and strategic plan and are drawing appropriately on University resources. Those marginal or peripheral to the good of the whole - however strong - should not be absorbing scarce resources, and should probably be reshaped or phased out.

8. Middle Management. Since my philosophy of management and delegation relies heavily on middle managers, I share the concern raised by the reviewers that middle managers are being "squeezed" organizationally and financially. We must gather and analyze data and review the position descriptions, salary levels, and adequacy of staffing in middle management to ensure that Brown is compensating its staff competitively and has appropriate staffing levels for the tasks that must be accomplished. Furthermore, we should ensure that where necessary reporting lines, procedures and policies are redesigned to support rather than inhibit middle managers from getting their work done collegially, efficiently, and with excellence.


Within the next eighteen months, Brown should strengthen and systematize the following activities (most of which are already taking place):

1. External Reviews. We must implement a predictable cycle of external reviews of individual departments and programs, and clusters of programs. While this process will require human and financial resources, it is overdue, and necessary as we move forward on graduate education. It might also be an opportunity to think about establishing some visiting committees for groups of departments both to have Brown's programs more widely known and to open new development possibilities.

2. Institutional Research. Although Brown does gather considerable data about itself in both routine institutional research and through periodic external reviews, this data should be brought together and reviewed; from it, we should develop a plan for collecting and circulating widely a selected set of key indicators of Brown's progress in such areas as recruiting and educating our students, and tracking their career and educational choices after graduation; hiring, retaining, and evaluating our faculty; carrying out our research and service mission; and managing our financial resources, including tuition rates.

3. Planning. There should be a continuous process for monitoring progress on strategic goals (as has been done in the past) and making the results available for systematic discussion. These goals should be well understood by the community, and must be in alignment with the strategic goals of the Corporation.


The reviewers concurred that Brown is a community clearly in search of its values, but not always able to engage in open discussion about them. They urged that in speeches, small group discussions, and one-on-one meetings over the next several months and years, I engage the community in discussing the difficult issues of values and morality listed below with particular attention to how they are enacted in our behavior toward one another in this community. They urged as well that I assert my views with passion. This is a challenge that I welcome, and one of the reasons I want to be a member of this small, vociferous community.

1. Civil and Safe Behavior. With the support of the Deans of Student Life and the College, I will find venues in which to discuss and speak out on such issues as excessive drinking, disruptive and violent behavior, drug abuse, sexual misconduct, and intolerance of any kind.

2. Rights and Responsibilities of Community Membership. I will engage in discussion of community values and common goals across all constituencies, using the Tenets of Community Behavior as a starting point. I believe that with the privilege of membership in this community come not just rights but responsibilities - for self, for others, and for the overall quality of life on campus and in the surrounding community. This sense of responsibility must apply to how we study and learn, how we teach and do research, how we interact with others, and how we manage our personal lives. While the mission of our residential community includes optimizing opportunities for individual growth, it also includes ensuring that our search for independence and autonomy be balanced by our recognition that we are interdependent in our civic life.

3. Openness to the Spectrum of Political Views. Among some, Brown holds a reputation for embracing "political correctness" and left-of-center politics. I will want to discuss widely both the perception and the reality as I discover it within the Brown community, and make clear in my public statements that academic freedom, free speech, and open debate are fundamental values which Brown and I will uphold.


As I near the end of this, my fourth, transition into a university presidency, it becomes clearer each day why I have come to Brown. This university is in a unique position to define itself for the next century. Doing so will require resolve, team work, and a willingness to take risks. I am committing myself to work with each of you, my colleagues, to accomplish the goals which we have and will set for Brown University. I ask all of you to do the same.