President's message 9-7-2012

Members of the Brown Community,

I write with great enthusiasm as we begin the academic year. The summer has been interesting, inspiring and productive. I spent the bulk of my time gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation of Brown, Providence and Rhode Island. I have had the opportunity to meet with nearly all of the department chairs and center and institute directors over the past few months, as well as students, staff, alumni, and leaders in our city and state.

These meetings, candid discussions and informative visits reinforced my early impressions: that ours is a community committed to excellence at the highest levels; that we prize innovation, independence and rigor in education and scholarship; and that we have a deep commitment to applying research and learning to issues of local, national and global significance, in the spirit of “discharging the offices of life with usefulness and reputation” and serving the public good.

The successful close of the Plan for Academic Enrichment and the “Boldly Brown” campaign that accompanied it, a presidential transition, and the upcoming celebration of Brown’s 250th year, together create a natural juncture to reflect on how we can best pursue our goals in the coming years. Although our aspirations—for excellence, innovation and service—are long-standing, we have an opportunity to imagine how to fulfill these aspirations in ways that build on Brown’s considerable strengths.

On Tuesday afternoon, at the first faculty meeting of the 2012-13 academic year, I discussed the outlines of a process that will begin this fall and conclude in the spring, resulting in a plan for the next phase of Brown’s development. Although valuable groundwork was laid last academic year and over the summer, through a series of meetings and committee reports commissioned by Provost Mark Schlissel, the planning process officially began with a two-day retreat I held last week with a group of senior administrators and faculty members. During this retreat, we took stock of the Plan for Academic Enrichment, which guided Brown’s growth over the past decade; we began to consider our ambitions for the decade ahead; and we discussed how to structure a planning process that is inclusive, transparent and efficient.

Planning will require the work of many, undertaken through a coordinated approach that will unfold over the next weeks and months. At the core of the process, we will be organized initially to address the following goals:

Attract and support an excellent, diverse and global student body. Talent, intelligence and curiosity are not bound by geography or economic circumstance. In addition to robust financial aid, what resources are required to ensure that Brown attracts, retains and supports the brightest undergraduate, graduate and medical students from around the corner and around the world to bring their ideas, intellects, perspectives and ambitions to our community?

Foster and nurture faculty excellence. Brown’s faculty is the largest in its history, having grown by 20% over the past decade. How can we continue to recruit an exceptionally talented and diverse faculty? And how can we best support them by providing the critical resources they need to be successful in their work?

Develop signature academic initiatives that build on Brown’s departmental strengths, distinctive multidisciplinary culture, and commitment to integrating education and scholarship. In what areas does Brown have particular strengths to contribute in significant ways to challenges that confront society?

Explore opportunities to advance Brown’s innovative approach to education to prepare students for the demands of the 21st Century. Brown has a long tradition of being both creative and independent in its approach to education. How can we build on the success of the open curriculum to best prepare Brown students for a technology-driven, globalized society of the future?

Reimagine the Brown campus and community. As Brown expands physically and programmatically, how should we develop the campus on and off College Hill to support our academic mission while ensuring that we maintain a cohesive community, physically here in Providence, and virtually, around the globe?

This is only an initial framework for organizing our work: it may change as new ideas and questions emerge. Mark will be in touch soon to provide details about the planning process and to ask for your ideas and involvement. We intend to rely heavily on existing standing committees and councils of the faculty, and student and staff governing bodies. We will also engage students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, community leaders, and partners and friends of the University through meetings, forums and on-line tools. A website for updates and feedback will soon go live, and we anticipate distributing survey instruments to gather more input and observations.

I hope to have the outlines of a plan in place by the end of the fall semester, with details filled in by the end of this academic year. This is an ambitious but achievable schedule. I hope you will contribute to the process, and I thank you in advance for your work in the year ahead.

Sincerely,
Chris Paxson