This afternoon, President Christina Paxson gave her first “State of Brown” speech. Though, in her words, it was more of a “discussion” than a speech, it stuck largely to the stated agenda of reviewing the strategic planning process from the past year. Since there were only about 40 non-UCS, non-University administration members of the community in Salomon 101—I blame it on the beautiful weather—it’s safe to assume most of you need to know the highlights of the speech. Read it; it’s worth knowing what’s actually going on with your school.
1. “Brown… needs to be Brown.” Paxson said this while recounting how her undergraduate experience at Swarthmore (she dabbled in English and Philosophy before landing on Economics her junior year) gave her a deep appreciation of the liberal arts education. Any changes that come with evolutions in education, such as online classes (more on that later), will not come at the expense of what makes Brown special.
2. Priorities for Strategic Planning. The academic priorities were brain science, public health, engineering, humanities, the Watson Institute, and a building for environmental research and teaching. Student life priorities were housing and athletics. The access priority was financial aid.
3. The new School of Public Health will be “distinctive” in that it will have plenty of opportunities for undergraduate participation.
4. Financial aid is expensive. To expand need-blind admissions to international, transfer, and resumed undergraduate students would cost around $250 million. In Paxson’s words, it would be a “bold” initiative.
5. On-line learning. Don’t think of MOOCs as the end of the University-College. Instead, think of how it could give an incoming freshman a chance to brush up on Chemistry before taking CHEM0330, or how it could allow a Biomedical Engineering concentrator to study abroad.
6. Math! An economist by training, Paxson had no trouble getting down to the details of the University’s finances. The scary parts: tuition makes up 44% of revenue (much higher than our Ivy League peers) and expense growth outpaced revenue growth by .2% over the past decade.
7. 250th anniversary. “Yes, there will be parties,” one in March 2014, the other in the fall of 2015. The official celebration lasts from March 2014 through commencement 2015 (sophomores win that one). THANK YOU MADAM PRESIDENT.
8. Q&A. Students pressed President Paxson on issues they were concerned about—diversity in the Strategic Planning initiative, for example —and every time she offered to continue the conversation one-on-one after the discussion. Most importantly, her claims to accessibility really seemed authentic. She wants to hear our voices and actually cares what we think. It’s nice to be reminded of that every now and then.