Like Harvard, Brown is in a large city. Unlike Harvard, it stands on a hill. Aside from comparisons of this kind, a Brown man, faculty or student, will recognize few standards for judging his university.
A member of the Brown community looks with interest but not envy at the larger, tradition-rich members of the Ivy group. He notes their strengths and weaknesses, forgets them, and talks of achievement and advances at his University. Since he assumed the presidency at Brown in 1937, Henry M. Wriston has insisted emphatically, "institutions are like individuals; they are all different. There is a tendency to think that because we are different, we are wrong." At Brown, there is a tendency to think that Brown is different and Brown is right.
An Unquestioning Hand
Paradoxically, a great part of Brown's difference lies in the impulse towards uniformity in its student body. The fraternity system is based on contribution, not seclusion. A Brown fraternity brother is a member of the College first; his fraternity's raison d'etre is to support the college in its policies and programs--and in the new residential quadrangle only an unlocked door separates fraternity for dormitory. At the most superficial level, student relations are based on tirelessly exchanged amenities; from Dean to freshmen, genial good fellowship is the social goal of the Brown man.
But if a glad, unquestioning hand marks Brown's social attitude, it is with integrity and experimental dedication that it approaches its curriculum. Almost unheralded, President Wriston introduced in January, 1953, a set of courses in the Identification and Criticism of Ideas, which he calls, "the exciting thing in education in America today."
These IC courses are designed for freshmen and sophomores, and double as distributional fulfillments. Running a full year, they serve both as introductory and terminal studies in each field included in the program. Not to be confused with the University of Chicago's or St. Johns' Great Books courses, they are uniquely Brown's. "This is strictly a Brown experiment, and being such, it is unexportable," says Wriston. "For this reason, we have given it no publicity."
Because of Wriston's notion that any text-book is a poor book, the courses choose some classic work as their central theme. For example, Darwin's Origin of Species is taken as the central book in a natural sciences IC course. After becoming thoroughly acquainted with it, students are encouraged to explore, through additional reading and discussion, its effects on nations, religions, and individuals. Each professor designs his own course, for Wriston insists that for the teacher to interest and excite his students, he must himself be interested and excited.
None of the 20 IC courses have more than 20 enrollees, because the secondary aim of the program is to teach men to talk. In addition, Wriston believes that an instructor cannot adequately criticize the written work of his students unless he knows them personally.
Brown administrators point to the indication of IC's success: in the two years since the courses' injection into the curriculum, freshman fatalities have dropped from ten percent of the class to five, and library circulation has increased 30 percent. Commenting on this healthy effect, Wriston says, "Improved standards make for increased pride. Therefore the students work for and get higher grades."
Enthusiasm for the program has spread to the whole faculty. Dean of the College Barnaby C. Keeney, considering the whole of Brown's academic progress, says he has never before seen such an upsurge of intellectual curiosity on the part of the students.
The IC courses deserve much of the credit for the increase in library circulation. Twice as many stack permits have been issued by library administrators this year than before, and teachers from every department report a growing interest in individual student research.
But an experiment like IC is very likely to enjoy its best years when it is new to students and faculty. Experiment creates excitement, and in such an atmosphere, a course will give every indication of complete success. In an effort to prolong the IC fervor, President Wriston has suggested that professors who wish to continue teaching in the IC program redesign their courses or perhaps change them entirely every few years. In this way he hopes to keep instruction on a high plane of competence and inspiration.
Six Million Microfilms
To satisfy growing student desire for exploration and individual research inspired by the IC program, Brown has an adequate if not impressive library system. Three main libraries form the core of the University's collection.