Not a week goes by when I don’t read or hear a criticism of the Corporation, President Christina Paxson or her administration. Student-run publications are often filled with commentary about our leaders’ purported detachment from undergraduate needs, exorbitant spending and general lack of direction in guiding Brown toward what we believe is best for the University.
Inarguably, students are Brown’s main stakeholders: The University provides us with an education, skills and an enriching undergraduate experience in exchange for the tuition and fees we pay. It’s not necessarily wrong, then, for students to apply a close lens to the policies and actions of those in power. Nevertheless, we belittle the good Paxson and the Corporation have done and are dangerously close to ignoring it altogether.
Having transferred from Northwestern University as a sophomore, I have been fortunate enough to witness many of these aforementioned improvements to Brown. The housing lottery is a clear example of this. Irrespective of the tradition it bears, the process was grossly inefficient and chaotic. Students waited with uncertainty about where they would live until minutes before their lottery numbers were called, wasting hours while the number-calling trudged along. Some were thrown into the infamous summer assignment process if they couldn’t physically attend. This process was an underutilization of the technological resources available to students.
The University’s shift to an online process is a definite demonstration of its willingness to deviate from the status quo for our betterment. Yet many seem to take this for granted, as if overhauling housing assignment for thousands of students is an easy task.
Improvements in campus safety further exhibit Paxson’s efforts. During my first semester at Brown, it was all too common to read an email about an unsolved theft or assault on campus. As such, it’s encouraging to see Brown take steps to protect its students. Last December’s Campus Safety Task Force Interim Report reveals an increasing use of safe travel resources provided by the University, an expansion of security staff posted across campus and plans to address other concerns like lighting and a mobile security system in the future. Over the past three years, the number of on-campus burglaries steadily declined. While there is work to be done, the University’s proactive policymaking to improve safety at Brown is worthy of praise and should give us confidence in student security.
Brown has also made appreciable educational advances in just the past year. After last semester’s Ray Kelly incident, Paxson arranged for a discussion forum to mitigate the rift of emotions among students and faculty members. She also appointed a faculty-student committee to prepare a report on those events and recently disseminated it across the student body.
Though this is speculative, I can’t imagine many other institutions taking a route so aligned with Brown’s commitment to intellectual inquiry. If students at Northwestern had shouted down a guest speaker, I can’t imagine open discussion and reflective reports — punitive action seems much more probable.
Additionally, after I mentioned the benefits of seminars across class levels in a previous column, Brown announced plans to add 15 sophomore seminars next year, which had previously been outlined in Paxson’s strategic plan. Academic freedom and acceptance of a diverse range of opinions in an environment of inquisition and debate are the heart of the open curriculum, and, despite actions from its students, Brown has done a magnificent job of preserving this message.
In actuality, much of what the Corporation is criticized for is ill-conceived. Penn will increase tuition nearly 4 percent next year, with a total cost above Brown’s. Harvard plans a 3.5 percent hike in fees. High tuition costs are not a problem unique to Brown — they are a nationwide issue acknowledged by President Obama. Treating them as uniquely ours masks the great deal of good our leaders have done.
Moreover, the criticisms I hear about Brown’s spending are nonsensical. Students benefit from capital expenditures on buildings and facilities. Higher professor salaries allow us to retain and employ some of the best in the field. Upgrading and investing in our infrastructure and drivers of education don’t preclude helping the vulnerable — these actions increase the general welfare of the student body in ways not easily visible.
I don’t unwaveringly support everything Brown does. I’d like the University to be stricter on hazing and vandalism of campus property. I think the strategic plan is excessively vague and needs concrete directives. But I’ve grown to appreciate many of the great things the Corporation and our leaders have done, especially coming from a school where those in power communicated and interacted very little with their students. I hope many at Brown will come to do the same.
Jay Upadhyay ’15 is an economics concentrator.