10-27-2013: Letter to Brown Alumni and Families

October 27, 2013

Dear Brown Alumni and Families,

Many thanks to those of you who were able to visit campus October 18-20, 2013, for Alumni Fall Weekend, Black Alumni Reunion, and Family Weekend. We were delighted the New England weather cooperated as we welcomed thousands of alumni, parents, family members and friends to College Hill for academic forums, award ceremonies, alumni panels, and theater, arts and athletic events. Please view this slideshow for a glimpse of the weekend’s offerings and activities.

The Brown Corporation met this weekend to consider a number of issues of significance to the University. The Corporation approved Building on Distinction: A New Plan for Brown, which offers a strategic vision and broad goals to guide the University’s growth and progress over the next decade. Building on Distinction capitalizes on Brown’s core values of intellectual independence, creativity, collaboration and social purpose to reach new levels of academic excellence through integrative research and innovative education in service to the community, the nation and the world. The plan highlights the need to keep a Brown education affordable for talented students from all economic backgrounds and to sustain a community with the diversity of thought and experience required for excellence.

The plan was developed over the course of nearly a year with the substantial and broad-based involvement of the Brown community. More than 70 faculty, students and staff members served on six committees that contributed to the plan; hundreds of others completed surveys or participated in forums and meetings that informed the process; and approximately 100 faculty members took part in developing “signature initiatives” that helped shape the final document.

The plan is, by design, strategic and broad, offering latitude to be flexible and opportunistic. Specific initiatives and proposals developed as a consequence of the plan will move forward over time through the established University governance processes. There are, however, a number of initiatives that can begin immediately, and others that have already begun. For example, as part of our ongoing commitment to reduce financial barriers and strengthen access to Brown, the University’s undergraduate financial aid policy will be modified to recalculate need each year for aided international students. Knowing the value of internships through which students can apply their academic work and gain valuable experience, we will expand access to such opportunities by increasing the resources available to cover summer earnings expectations for aided undergraduates with non-paying summer internships or other educationally valuable but poorly compensated summer activities. We are also developing an expanded program to support summer internships and Undergraduate Teaching and Research Awards (UTRAs), which I look forward to reporting more about in the future.

The inaugural TRI-Lab seminar, a program in engaged learning and service, is being piloted this year with a focus on healthy early childhood development. The College will develop the new sophomore seminar program on topics of identity, equity and justice, with the first courses ready in fall 2014. This spring we will launch a new Center for Educational Innovation in the Sheridan Center that will be a hub for the development and analysis of online teaching content.

A number of items in the plan require further study and are on track for early implementation. As part of the Sustaining Life on Earth integrative theme noted in the plan, we have established a task force to identify new opportunities for community members to work to diminish climate change, and we will be developing the leadership structure for a new Brown Institute for the Study of Environment and Society. We will also explore the growth of existing master’s programs and the development of new ones.

Please take a moment to read the plan. Our goals are both ambitious and achievable. I look forward to your involvement and support in the coming months and years as we work to meet our greatest aspirations and ensure Brown is positioned to fulfill its mission of teaching, research and service at the highest levels for decades to come.

The Corporation also grappled with a request advanced by a student-led organization, Brown Divest Coal, to divest endowment holdings from a set of coal companies that mine or use coal in the production of power. The issue was reviewed and considered over the last year by several committees, including the Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policy (ACCRIP); and an Ad Hoc Committee of the Corporation composed of members with expertise in public policy, science, health and financial markets. In addition to their deliberation this weekend, the full Corporation devoted a portion of its May meeting to discuss the issue, inviting students from Divest Coal to participate in and inform the discussion. There have also been educational opportunities on campus for discourse and debate.

After careful consideration, the Corporation concluded that while climate change is a pressing issue and universities have an important role to play through teaching, research and service, divestiture from coal companies is not the right tool for achieving the societal goals to which we all aspire. I urge you to read the letter that I sent to the Brown campus community today explaining the rationale for this decision.

Members of the Corporation and I are grateful to the students who have devoted significant time and energy to raising awareness of the role of the effects of coal on the environment and human health. We hope to continue constructive work together to advance knowledge through scholarship and education aimed at sustaining life on earth.

We will continue to keep you informed of campus and community issues in the coming months, particularly as we prepare for the 250th anniversary of the University’s founding, which we will celebrate from March 2014 through May 2015. I look forward to many opportunities over the course of that period to reflect on Brown and its place in the world through its research and discoveries, educational innovations, enduring contributions, and our traditions, old and new.

Sincerely,

Christina H. Paxson President