Last week, The Herald ran a four-part “Mission Drift?” series surveying the major changes of President Ruth Simmons’ tenure and the noticeable lack of philosophical discussion surrounding those changes. For Herald articles, the four series stories feature an unusually broad scope and unusually pointed analysis, and they’ve garnered a lot of feedback.
Most of the feedback has been positive. Some has been neutral. Some students have noted their surprise at what they consider the opinionated nature of the pieces. The degree of analysis and the strength of the conclusions certainly represent a departure from The Herald’s usual style, which tends toward straight reporting. The departure is intentional. The editors felt that condensing the last decade of University history in a useful and meaningful way required a significant amount of analysis and explanation, rather than just the presentation of bare facts. We hope our analysis has been helpful, and we consider it fairly conservative. We welcome alternate interpretations.
And we’ve received some criticism, which we also welcome. In a 10,000 word-series, there will always be room for improvement. One reader considered the stories lacking in hard numbers to back up our analysis. The point is well-taken. While the stories do include plenty of data, they also include plenty of analysis. There are some conclusions that could have benefited from more exploration of the numbers. Another reader felt the first story lacked historical perspective. To be sure, issues like the need for money and competition with other Ivy League schools are nothing new. In the 1760s, Morgan Edwards, a Baptist minister, went to England to solicit money on Brown’s behalf. Unfortunately, a young Native American, Christianized by white educators, was in England at the same time collecting donations for Dartmouth. He proved quite the sensation, and Dartmouth’s haul dwarfed Brown’s. The series does not intend to claim fundraising and competition from other schools have become issues for the first time. Rather, it contends that these issues are now guiding decision-making — in ways both blatant and subtle — to a greater extent than they have during the rest of the half-century during which former President Henry Wriston’s university-college model and the New Curriculum defined Brown. This was the the same period during which the University rose to prominence.
Of the positive feedback, we are most heartened by what we’ve been hearing from faculty. Many of them have witnessed first-hand the entirety of the shifts the series describes, and they have expressed their approval of Mission Drift in great numbers. One professor even cancelled his class’s final reading assignment and instructed the students to instead read the series. But the feedback we’ve received from faculty has been private. Over the course of the year, many professors, most of them tenured, have expressed reluctance to express strong opinions in our pages for fear of alienating administrators, who, among other powers, hold the purse strings. But we do not think administrators at a place like Brown are out to bulldoze dissent, and we see these professors’ hesitance as overly timid. One trend the series identified as deserving more scrutiny is the diminishing role of the faculty in institutional decision-making. The University is undergoing a period of leadership transition, and the time is ripe for the faculty to join the debate about Brown’s future.
We encourage all our readers, especially, professors, to share their thoughts by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Those with more to say should consider writing a guest opinions column and can contact our Opinions editors at email@example.com. The last Herald issue of the semester comes out Wednesday, but we hope discussion about the direction of the University continues as long as there is a University to discuss.