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.
The John Hay contains a diversified, functional collection, distributed more or less evenly among the main scholastic departments. In the John Carter Brown Library is housed a fine and widespread selection of Americana, ranging across the years from the reports of early explorers to contemporary comments and fiction. Although mainly a showcase, the Annmary Brown Memorial Library boasts one of the largest collections of incunabula (books published between 1474 and 1500) in the country.
Perhaps the best-known Brown library is the divisional Physical Sciences Library. Stocked to supply the University's big, exceptionally strong Mathematics Department, it contains texts on pure math, its application, and its history. An evidence of the library's strength and completeness is the location of the headquarters of the American Mathematical Society across the street from the Brown campus. Recently the Math department mailed its six millionth microfilm of a rare text to an interested person.
But if Brown generally stands aloof on its strengths, it must compete with other Ivy Group colleges in the matter of admissions. Dean of Admission Emery R. Walker allows himself a few comparisons, which he sums up with, "We can match 'em with any college." But Walker ignores comparison when he is selling Brown to a candidate.
The Caliber of Atmosphere
It is the singular peculiarities of the Providence institution he stresses, not its standing in relation to the large universities. Naturally, unity of spirit, small classes, and extracurricular activities are influential in a candidate's decision. About a fifth of the 3,000 applicants are accepted each year. A slight edge, 55 percent, of the incoming class is maintained by public school graduates.
Brown's financial aid system is identical, on a smaller scale, to Harvard's scholarship plan. Each applicant's ability to meet costs is considered in the same way; financial need as computed in trial cases was determined identically under both the Brown plan and John U. Monro's Harvard formula. Scholarship grants range from $200 to $1500, and about 170 out of 600 applicants receive aid. The gross scholarship fund approaches half a million dollars annually.
Dean Keeney feels the same way about the faculty members as does Walker about the caliber of the student body. "They teach at Brown because they like the atmosphere," he says, acknowledging the lower wage scale. There is complete freedom to do research work at Brown, but being a relatively small college, it occasionally loses men who require a broader scope in their particular fields.
An Interlocking Social Life
The small classes and the opportunity for close student-faculty contacts prejudice many excellent professors in favor of Brown. There is no doubt in the Brown man's mind that these special advantages more than offset the ability of more generously endowed institutions to attract teachers.
Students too have received more encouragement to attend Brown since President Wriston's arrival--mostly in the form of a new, L-shaped quadrangle of interlocking dormitories and fraternities which centers around the College's central eating-place, the refectory.
Until the completion of the quadrangle in 1951, Brown's fraternity men were spread our over the Providence hillside in dilapidated buildings with leaky roofs, faulty plumbing, and often inadequate study facilities. Food was purchased in small, expensive lots and varied considerably in quality. But most important in view of the College's stress on close community life, the members of the different fraternities and those who lived in dorms did not mingle freely enough.
Everything is different now. A statue of Caesar Augustus raises a benign hand--to which the Brownies have taped a symbolic dead pigeon--over the central area of the quadrangle, where frat brothers and dormitory men mix constantly in their daily routine.
The feeling of excitement and exploration which has infected the student in his studies extends to social activity. Dormitory facilities are second to those of the fraternities only in social functions and the dorm resident is frequently seen at fraternity functions as the guest of a boy who may live only a few doors down the hall from him, but separated by a swinging door.
A Difference of Dining
As soundproof and functional as modern engineering can make them, the building units are ordinarly divided into three sections: two fraternities with a dormitory section between them. The heavy metal partitions which separate the three are movable, allowing the fraternities to expand or contract according to their yearly membership without loss of money or space to the College.
Working on the principle that the shortest way to a Brown man's mind is through his stomach, the huge refectory occupies a central position in the quadrangle. Here over 1600 may feed three times a day. The tradition of fraternity segregation is still maintained, however, with the brothers eating in smaller adjacent dining rooms allotted each house. Although the Brown student is not required to maintain the elegance of coat and tie at meals, he dines on real china and eats food served by real waiters--many of them scholarship job holders.
But if the quadrangle has helped Brown toward its ideal of greater cohesion and an active mixing of ideas, it has not completely solved the problems of the past. Little Brown, like most other universities, is troubled with overcrowding.
The present quadrangle was designed with the current enrollment in mind, allowing for only 65 percent resident students. But like a superhigh-way which creates its own traffic, the new, comparatively luxuries facilities have attracted a large number of local students who would not have lived in the mouldering old fraternity houses. Residence is now up to 80 percent, and the total may still rise.
A Building Pressure
To meet the problem, the College authorities have required returning veterans and students who have been away from Brown to live off campus in the numerous boarding houses nearby.
Freshmen are largely but not completely segregated in older dormitories around the central campus where class and administration buildings are located, and local students are being encouraged--though not required--to live at home. Still, with applications constantly increasing, the problem remains a serious one.
President Wriston, a great advocate of organic growth in all things touching the College, feels that the problem will eventually solve itself when, under increasing pressure, the College will have to raise the money for new buildings and increase its enrollment. In this as in other respects, he wants Brown to develop naturally in its own pattern--not in emulation of or in competition with other Ivy Colleges.
A Sister College
In another respect, Brown already parallels Cambridge. For the simple pleasures of feminine companionship, the Brownie need shuffle only three blocks through the leaves to arrive at the small campus of his sister college--Pembroke. Here, some 800 women enjoy a position similar in all but administrative setup to that of the Radcliffe student in Cambridge. They attend classes with Brown students on the Brown campus and have the same faculty. Their exact relationship to the College is difficult to describe; like so many other things at Brown, it is without pattern or precedent. It just grew.
Another example of natural growth on the Brown campus is the sudden increase of student interest in the educational process. The aims and methods of Wriston's program have captured the undergraduate imagination--perhaps because for the first time the Brown man has been made aware that a college education is more than four years of campus life.
Student interest in the formulation of college policies makes itself felt directly through the Cammarian Club--the Brown student government organization. Its two major projects at present are pushing through an honor system for the College and drawing up a report on all phases of college life, to be completed by 1957.
Agitation for an honor system is not now at Brown. It began over a year ago, as the result of renewed student enthusiasm for integrated spirit in connection with studies as well as, other phases of college.
A working honor agreement was drawn up by the Cammarian Club and submitted to the faculty last winter. Faculty members were not opposed to the idea of an honor system at Brown, but agreed that at least 75 percent of the students would have to approve the plan in an all-College referendum before it could be put into effect. After a short campaign to publicize the honor system, the agreement was put to a student vote in March. Only 62 percent favored its adoption.
A Spirit of Honor
But Cammarian leaders were not deterred. After studying a comment section on the ballots, they discovered that very few who had voted against the system opposed it on principle. Most objections were aimed at certain clauses--such as the reporting clause--which existed in the specific agreement. A special Honor System Committee set up under the Club is now supervising trial applications of the honor system in a few freshman courses whose instructors favor the idea. If these experimental applications of the system meet with student approval, the Club will probably press for another vote. Next time it expects success.
A Squealing Cub
In a day when the general trend is away from the honor system, and when such systems are being reexamined and often discarded all over the country, Brown's enthusiasm may seem strange. Cammarian Club leaders explain it as another manifestation of the students' desire for a unified College spirit extending to and including studies. It has certainly been a natural by-product of the Brown renaissance.
No longer a self conscious cub, but a swiftly-maturing Bear, Brown stands proudly in the midst of the more imposing Ivy group colleges. Gone are the high squeals of protest against accusations of inferiority. In their place have come the benign rumble of individuality.