‘Building on Distinction’

Corporation approves strategic plan

October 27, 2013  |  Media Contact: Marisa Quinn |  401-863-2453
The Corporation of Brown University has unanimously approved Building on Distinction: A New Plan for Brown, the strategic vision that will inform the University’s next decade of growth and progress. The Corporation also determined, after careful consideration, that divestment from a set of companies involved in the production of coal is not the right tool for Brown to address the important problem of climate change. Other Corporation actions included creation of a new doctoral program in public health, appointments to various boards and professorships, and formal acceptance of gifts to the University.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — At its first formal meeting of the 2013-14 academic year, the Corporation of Brown University unanimously adopted Building on Distinction: A New Plan for Brown, a strategic plan presented by President Christina H. Paxson.

The plan seeks to build on the progress of the last decade and provides a vision and set of broad goals to achieve higher levels of distinction as a university that unites innovative education and outstanding research to benefit the community, the nation and the world. It calls for targeted investments to attract and support the most talented and diverse faculty, students, and staff; capitalize on existing strengths; and provide the environment to foster rigorous inquiry and discovery across the disciplines. 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.

Development of the University’s new strategic plan began a year ago with the appointment of more than 70 faculty, staff, and students to six planning committees and a working group that solicited proposals for signature academic initiatives. After working through the fall semester, those committees submitted reports that addressed strategic priorities in a number of areas for the plan: faculty recruitment, career development and retention; student support and financial aid; educational innovation; doctoral education; online teaching and learning; and the growth and development of the Brown campus and community.

The process also included hundreds of students, faculty, and staff who completed a number of surveys and attended forums and meetings to inform the plan.

“The beauty of this plan is that it reflects the University’s core values of openness, creativity, and collaboration, and it positions Brown to attain ever higher levels of academic achievement by building on Brown’s strengths of interdisciplinary, integrative research and educational innovation,” said Chancellor Thomas J. Tisch. “The Corporation is enthusiastic about moving forward with the plan and achieving our greatest aspirations over the next decade and beyond.”

Building on Distinction reflects the University’s approach that education and scholarship reinforce each other and that the best academic programs bring innovative teaching and rigorous research together to advance knowledge. The plan is built around four major components:

  • Integrative Scholarship: Building on Brown’s distinctive strength at research and education that integrate knowledge from diverse disciplines, the plan identifies seven themes targeted for investments to bring faculty and students together from across departments, institutes, and centers to advance knowledge in areas of importance in Rhode Island and around the country and the world. Themes include Creating Peaceful, Just and Prosperous Societies; Understanding the Human Brain; Cultivating Human Expression; Sustaining Life on Earth; Deciphering Disease and Improving Population Health; Exploring Human Experience; and Using Science and Technology to Improve Lives.
  • Educational Leadership: The plan identifies innovative approaches to teaching and learning that will sustain Brown’s position as a leader in undergraduate, graduate and medical education. It calls for enhancements to Brown’s open curriculum through curricular innovations and a continued focus on student advising; aggressive experimentation in new modes of education that rely on online learning and the use of other digital technologies; more opportunities for experiential student learning locally and globally, through internships and engaged scholarship; education for data fluency and analysis, building an understanding of how data are collected, stored, analyzed, and visualized; and creation of a Primary Care and Population Health track for medical students.
  • Academic Excellence: The plan proposes actions that will enhance Brown’s ability to attract and support an exceptionally talented faculty, staff, and student body with the diversity required for excellence. It commits to maintaining need-blind admission for domestic students and calls for special attention to affordability for students from middle-income and high-need families, and to work toward being fully need-blind for all undergraduate students. It highlights Brown’s commitment to cultivating an environment that is increasingly attractive to outstanding scholars and educators; providing resources to attract and develop the careers of the talented doctoral students; increasing excellence across the University’s departments and graduate programs; enhancing masters education; supporting staff professional and career development; and forging additional strategic collaborations and partnerships in Rhode Island and across the globe.
  • Campus Development: Brown is taking a thoughtful and data-driven approach as it plans the development of its campus. The plan proposes to maintain an intimate and walkable campus on College Hill that serves the core academic functions of the University and to develop properties in the Jewelry District for administrative and research uses. Growth is essential, and as Brown expands it will use technology and transportation infrastructure to maintain a strong sense of community locally and globally. Brown’s approach to growth will include the consideration of opportunities for collaboration and partnership with private and public-sector entities in our city and state. New construction and renovation projects will reflect the value of sustainability.

The plan also calls for a slightly larger faculty and student body, increasing on the order of 1 percent annually for a decade.

“It has been incredibly rewarding to work with members of the Brown community to develop a collective vision for Brown’s future,” Paxson said. “The goals and initiatives set out in Building on Distinction will put us on an ambitious but achievable path to raise Brown’s stature as a leading university that unites innovative teaching and outstanding research.”

While detailed planning and sequencing gets underway for projects in support of the plan’s larger goals, there are several initiatives that can begin immediately, Paxson said:

  • The University will modify its undergraduate financial aid policy so that the financial need for international students will be recalculated each year.
  • The University is developing an expanded program to support summer internships and UTRAs (Undergraduate Teaching and Research Awards) and will commit $500,000 to defray summer earnings expectations for aided students who take internships or other educationally valuable summer activities that are uncompensated or poorly compensated.
  • The College will begin a new sophomore seminar program on topics of identity, equity, and justice with the first courses offered in fall 2014.
  • The Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning will launch a new Laboratory for Educational Innovation to support the development and analysis of online teaching content.
  • The inaugural TRI-Lab seminar, a program in engaged learning and service, is being piloted this year in Providence with a focus on healthy early childhood development.

“Achieving Brown’s ambitions over the next decade will require a responsible and disciplined financial plan with new investments supported through a combination of philanthropy, external grants, new revenue streams, and focused attention to costs,” Paxson said. “The pace of progress will depend on our capacity to identify the necessary resources.”

Divestiture ‘is not the right tool’

The Corporation also considered a request advanced by Brown Divest Coal, a student-led organization, to divest endowment holdings from a set of 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. The full Corporation also devoted a portion of its May meeting to discussing and deliberating the issue, inviting students from Brown Divest Coal to participate in and inform the discussion.

In a letter to the Brown community, Paxson affirmed the University’s commitment to addressing climate change through education, research, and leadership in campus sustainability and reported the Corporation’s conclusion that divestiture is not the right tool for achieving the societal goals to which we all aspire.

(See the news release Brown on coal: Research and education are the way forward.)

Other actions of the Corporation

Approval of a new doctoral program

The Board of Fellows approved the recommendation of the faculty to establish a Ph.D. Program in Behavioral and Social Health Sciences. The program will focus on developing and evaluating health behavior interventions, research on behavior and health outcomes, and collaboration both across academic disciplines and between researchers and communities.

Establishment of endowed professorships

Having received sufficient funds as required by University policy, the Corporation established, effective immediately:

  • the Joan Wernig Sorensen Professorship in Engineering; and
  • the Mahatma Gandhi Professorship in Modern India Studies.

Appointment of faculty to named chairs

The Corporation approved the appointment of the following faculty to named chairs:

  • Samuel Dudley, the Ruth and Paul Levinger Professor of Cardiology, effective July 1, 2013;
  • Maureen Phipps, the Chace-Joukowsky Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, effective Sept. 1, 2013;
  • Jack Elias, the Frank L. Day Professor of Biology, effective Sept. 1, 2013;
  • John Tomasi, the Romeo Elton Professor of Natural Theology, effective July 1, 2014;
  • Wilson Truccolo-Filho, the Pablo J. Salame ’88 Goldman Sachs Assistant Professor of Computational Neuroscience, effective Sept. 1, 2013 through Aug. 31, 2017.

Elections to various boards

  • To the Watson Institute Board of Overseers: Miguel Angel Centeno, Joshua Cohen, James A. Harmon, and Mitchell R. Julius;
  • To the John Carter Brown Library Board of Governors Executive Committee: Clint Smullyan, vice chair; Sylvia Brown, member; David Rumsey, member;
  • To the John Carter Brown Library Board of Governors: David Rumsey;
  • To the George A. and Eliza Gardner Howard Foundation Board of Administration: John Cayley.

Acceptance of gifts

By University policy, all gifts of $1 million or more require formal acceptance by the Corporation. At its Saturday business meeting, the Corporation accepted or ratified previous acceptance of gifts totaling more than $53 million. These included:

  • From anonymous donors, a gift of $15 million pending donor designation;
  • From an anonymous donor, a gift of $5,183,411 to the University's Donor-Advised Fund;
  • From anonymous donors, a gift of $5 million, of which $4 million is to endow a chair in engineering, science, or mathematics and $1 million is to endow a research fund associated with the professorship;
  • From anonymous Brown parents, a gift of $5 million, of which $3 million is in support of undergraduate scholarships for students who are not U.S. citizens, $1.25 million in support of the Brown Annual Fund, $250,000 in support of athletics, and $500,000 pending donor designation;
  • From Chancellor Emeritus Stephen Robert, a Brown parent and 1962 Brown graduate, a gift of $4 million to establish an endowment for a distinguished scholar associated with the Watson Institute for International Studies, with preference for an historian of the Middle East;
  • From an anonymous donor, a gift of $3.25 million, of which $3 million is to endow a chair in modern India studies and $250,000 is to support the Brown Annual Fund;
  • From the estate of Grace Kennison Alpert, a 1951 graduate, a gift of $3 million to fund a professorship at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University for a faculty member in the clinical neurosciences;
  • From Brown parents Victor and Elena Pinchuk, a gift of $2.25 million, of which $2 million is to endow fellowships for students from Ukraine studying for the Master of Public Health or other public health master’s degrees, and $250,000 is to endow a flexible fund to support the Pinchuk Fellows, faculty research, travel, consultations, and collaborations related to public health and medical issues facing Ukraine;
  • From Brown parents H. David Hibbitt, a 1972 Ph.D. graduate, and Susan Buck Hibbitt, a 1970 Brown graduate, a gift of $2.25 million to establish an endowment for graduate fellowships in the School of Engineering;
  • From anonymous Brown parents, a gift of $2 million, of which $1.5 million is pending donor designation and $500,000 is for the Brown Annual Fund;
  • From Joseph Edelman and Pamela Keld, a 1983 graduate, a gift of $2 million to establish an endowment supporting Brown women’s athletics;
  • From anonymous donors, a gift of $1.25 million to establish a flexible fund to support Brown's initiatives in engineering and entrepreneurship, to be allocated at the discretion of the president and the dean of the School of Engineering;
  • From anonymous donors, a gift of $1 million to establish the Brook Street Scholarship Fund for undergraduate students with the greatest financial need;
  • From Brown parents William J. Zisson, a 1963 Brown graduate, and Nancy Steinhaus Zisson, a 1965 Brown graduate, and the Zisson Foundation Inc., a gift of $1 million, half to endow the Zisson Family Assistant Coaching Chair for Men’s Soccer and half to endow the Zisson Family Travel Fund for Men’s Soccer;
  • From Brown parent Benjamin K. Lee, a gift of $1 million to establish the Madam Lee Woo Shui Fun Scholarship to support undergraduate students from Hong Kong with preference for graduates of St. Paul’s College, Hong Kong;
  • From Matthew I. Sirovich, a 1987 graduate, and Meredith A. Elson, a 1991 graduate, a gift to provide current-use support for the School of Public Health and an additional gift to establish the Carole and Lawrence Sirovich Professorship for Public Health.
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