July 11, 2013: Letter to the Brown Community

Members of the Brown Community,

Greetings! As I begin my second year as Brown’s president, I am writing to share a few highlights from the past year. Let me start by thanking the many members of our community—faculty, students, staff, alumni, parents, neighbors and friends—who welcomed me so warmly to Brown and to Rhode Island. I am proud to be leading a great university that celebrates intellectual curiosity, creativity and individuality; appreciates the power of collaboration among individuals with different perspectives, backgrounds and areas of expertise; and believes in the value of scholarship and education in making a positive impact on society now and in the future.

Since September, Brown community members have engaged in an ambitious planning process designed to chart the next phase of the University’s development. In characteristic Brown style, the conversations about Brown’s future have been spirited and inclusive. Numerous ideas were raised, their merits debated, some retained and others deferred. In every case, however, there was agreement that our strategy must build on the elements of Brown’s character that distinguish it from other leading research universities. Our plans will lay out a set of academic themes around which we will focus our investments in the coming years and propose new strategies for enhancing Brown’s leadership role in liberal arts education. I look forward to sharing our proposed plans with you this fall for discussion and feedback.

Although members of our community devoted significant time and attention to strategic planning, it was not a year for pause. As we worked to design a blueprint for the future, we continued to make progress on a number of existing University priorities, including:

  • The faculty and Corporation of Brown approved plans for a new School of Public Health, which had its official launch on July 1, 2013 with Professor Terrie “Fox” Wetle as the School’s founding dean. This School will educate future generations of health researchers and policymakers and support research and practice to improve health in Rhode Island, the United States and around the world.
  • Brown joined with Coursera to offer three “Massive Open Online Courses,” or MOOCs. These free noncredit courses—one in comparative literature, one in archaeology, and one in matrix algebra—are allowing people from around the world to learn from three of Brown’s exceptional faculty members. Our experience developing these courses has helped us learn how to create excellent online content and consider its appropriate role in the Brown curriculum.
  • We had an outstanding year for faculty hiring, including the successful recruitment of four leading academics who will take on major administrative roles: Dr. Jack Elias, from Yale University, will take over from Dr. Edward Wing as the new dean of medicine and biological sciences; Professor Richard Locke, a political scientist from MIT, started his new position as director of the Watson Institute for International Studies; Professor Neil Safier ’91, from the University of British Columbia, will serve as librarian and director of the John Carter Brown Library; and Professor Robert Preucel, from the University of Pennsylvania, will direct the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology. Major administrative recruitments include Patricia Watson, who came to us from Cornell to serve as senior vice president for advancement; and investor Joseph Dowling III, who is Brown’s new chief investment officer.
  • Several Brown faculty members took on new leadership roles at the University: Professor Anthony Bogues was appointed inaugural director of the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, which he has already built into an active center of scholarship and education; Professor Tricia Rose was appointed director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America; Professor David Savitz will become the next vice president for research; and Professor Dov Sax has been appointed director of the Center for Environmental Studies.
  • We celebrated the variety of skills, high level of expertise, and depth of commitment demonstrated by the University’s staff at the Brown Employee Appreciation and Recognition (B.E.A.R.) Day last February, devoting special attention to acknowledging the exceptional honorees who received Excellence Awards this year.
  • Brown continues to promote public discourse on issues of great societal importance, whether it be through a TEDx conference held last October focused on the role of a liberal education in intellectual and personal development; a series of thoughtful debates on guns in America hosted by the Janus Forum; or the 2012 Achebe Colloquium on governance, security and peace in Africa—an event that has special significance, since it was the last Brown colloquium Professor Chinua Achebe hosted prior to his death this spring. Most recently, we have been engaged in a campus-wide conversation on Brown’s role in addressing climate change; this discussion will continue in the coming year.
  • November saw the dedication of a new women’s field hockey field named in honor of Michael “Goldie” Goldberger, his wife Kathy and his sons Kevin and Brian. The old Hunter Laboratory is being fully renovated to create new space for research and teaching on the environment, complete with a roof-top research greenhouse. This project will be completed in January 2014. We began an extensive renovation of the historic John Hay Library that will restore the grand “reading room,” which has been used for administrative purposes, to a space dedicated for quiet study. Over the summer more than 100 projects are taking place to enhance classroom, research, teaching and campus life, including the renovation of Keeney Quad and the transformation of Andrews Commons for much needed student space.
  • Just last week we announced plans to partner with private developer Commonwealth Venture Properties, the City of Providence and State of Rhode Island to advance a comprehensive redevelopment project in Providence’s Jewelry District—an area of the city in which Brown has expanded and invested over the past decade. The project will provide space for essential University growth while also contributing to economic development in Providence. Brown will enter long-term lease negotiations with the developer in the coming weeks.
  • Throughout this year, I have been impressed by Brown’s characteristic approach to melding education and research and by the discoveries and advances in scholarship that result. Brown faculty and students were part of an international team of physicists that, after decades of work, made a triumphant finding, identifying a new particle consistent with the Higgs boson. A Brown-led team of archaeologists made dramatic discoveries at a site in El Zotz, Guatemala, last summer, revealing fresh insights into the Maya civilization. Through another study, we learned that water inside the Moon’s mantle came from the same source thought to have supplied most of the water on Earth. The number of awards and honors received by our faculty—a list too long to include here—is evidence of the significance of their work.

Brown also continues to attract outstanding students. This year, just 9.2 percent of the applicants to our undergraduate program were admitted. The Class of 2017 is an enormously talented and diverse group representing all 50 states and more than 80 nations. The entering classes of graduate and medical students are also extraordinary. Although Brown students have impressive credentials, I have learned over the past year that they bring much more than high test scores and grade point averages. They approach everything they do—whether in the classroom or the laboratory, on stage or the playing field, volunteering in the community or launching a new venture—with a sense of passion and purpose.

Brown is able to fulfill its mission of teaching, research and service largely because of the unwavering generosity of our supporters. Preliminary reports indicate that fundraising efforts were strong last year. More than 31,000 alumni, parents, staff and friends made gifts and pledges totaling over $193 million. These gifts are vital, allowing the University to attract and retain exceptional students and faculty through a robust program of need-blind financial aid, competitive stipends and critical faculty support. Increasing access and moderating the costs of higher education are priorities for Brown, and donor support allowed us to increase undergraduate financial aid by 5.6 percent—to $95.2 million—for the coming academic year.

It was particularly gratifying this spring to announce gifts totaling $44 million for the School of Engineering from Theresia Gouw ’90, Charles H. Giancarlo ’79 and Dianne G. Giancarlo, and from alumni donors who wish to remain anonymous. Gouw’s gift honors Barrett Hazeltine, professor emeritus of engineering at Brown. These gifts have inspired others to support engineering, bringing us closer to our goal of $160 million needed to achieve our vision for the expanded School of Engineering.

This year was also a time to start planning for the 250th anniversary of Brown’s founding. The celebration will begin with a campus “Open House” on March 7-8, 2014, and will be followed by a number of events, lectures, forums, performances and activities on College Hill and around the globe. An all-alumni weekend is planned for September 27-28, 2014, and the period of commemoration will continue through Commencement/Reunion 2015. We will share more details in the coming months, and I hope you will take part in this historic occasion by helping to recognize Brown’s founding and contribute in shaping Brown’s future.

Once again, many thanks for a memorable year marked by notable achievements. Brown is a remarkable institution and community, with students, faculty, staff and alumni distinguished by their intellectual independence, creativity and obvious devotion to the University. I have been honored to meet so many members of the community this year, and as we approach Brown’s 250th anniversary, I look forward to many, many more such opportunities.

Sincerely,

Christina H. Paxson