Brown University is doubtless known to every reader of this blog as one of the eight famed Ivy League colleges (four of which NECHE accredits). I happen to know Brown a little more personally, as my older daughter is a very proud 2008 graduate. Brown is renowned in higher education for its open curriculum, meaning there are no core curriculum or distribution requirements, so students can take almost any course they like. When my daughter was an Urban Studies major here, for instance, I believe her first semester courses included the poetry of Egypt and the novels of Bolivia. I might not have that exactly right, but my point is that students can explore wherever their passion leads them, and Brown students are both brilliant and passionate.
I spent a delightful hour talking to Brown’s President, Dr. Chris Paxson, and it turns out our lives have intersections neither of us realized. We are both alums of Swarthmore College (Chris is a good bit younger than me) and while we majored in different subjects, we shared a number of favorite professors. We both were participants in the famed Honors Program at Swarthmore, though admittedly she graduated with (much) higher honors than I did. And our home in Swathmore sat right next door to the spooky domicile of her very eccentric cousin.
Dr. Paxson is in her tenth year as President with her contract just renewed for several more years. Under her leadership, Brown just completed a three billion-dollar capital campaign which finished a year early; an accomplishment that is mind-boggling and historic. I’m not entirely sure the campaign is over, but the fact remains that Brown’s endowment earned returns in excess of fifty percent during the past fiscal year and is now over seven billion dollars. That’s a lot of money by anyone’s reckoning and provides 15% of the school’s operating budget and plenty of generous scholarships for its students. However, a school like Princeton (with far fewer students than the 10,000 at Brown) has an endowment of over thirty billion. Yes, that’s billion with a B.
Brown’s campus is picturesque, self-contained, beautifully landscaped, and exactly what you envision when you think of the Ivy League.
Its students are wildly diverse and even in the shops and cafes of the town, you’re likely to find Korean donuts, international boutiques, and fascinating fare. Traditional brick buildings and quads are bordered by dazzling new performance spaces, public art, and labs. Everywhere you see admissions tours of kids and parents, hoping and praying they might end up at this historic university.
When people talk about the United States as the shining star– the polestar if you will– of higher education in the world, it is institutions like Brown they have in mind. Founded over 250 years ago, it’s now home to more than fifty doctoral programs, thirty master’s programs, 800 faculty teachers, and a leading research hospital. It was a treat to be able to visit again.
I know you will enjoy my conversation with President Paxson below.