Lessons From Brown in Civic Affairs

In contrast to the rather dismal picture of Massachusetts Hall--Cambridge relations, Brown University, a 2500-student liberal arts college in Providence, maintains a town-gown atmosphere as good as Harvard's is poor.

Four years ago, Brown bought 39 acres of land from the city for a magnificent new athletic plant--the property, one of the finest pieces of real estate available in the city for many years--was desired and fought for by every major Providence realtor, yet was sold to the tax-exempt educational institution.

While Harvard was forced to embark on a nation-wide alumni fund drive to raise money from College graduates, Brown was able to get $3 million from all the people of Rhode Island, by selling itself as an "integral part of the community." One can only wonder at the effect of such a local appeal campaingn in the Greater Cambridge area.

Relations between Harvard and the local community are not improving, and the traditional town-gown feud is still a serious obstacle to projects and desires vital to the University.

John Briston Sullivan's petition to buy land across from Littauer Center for an office building on stilts has become history (at least until the next legislative session), but Harvard's role in the controversy cannot be easily forgotten. Before Gov. Volpe, presumably under pressure, ended the battle by vetoing the bill, the University had pitted itself against five City Councilmen and much of Cambridge, worsening public relations which had only just begun to improve.

The University is still trying to buy the Cambridge MTA yards as the site for a badly needed Tenth House. But despite generous purchase prices and offers to use part of the land for taxable ventures, Massachusetts Hall has been unable to obtain State consent to buy the property.

More important than the ultimate outcome of these and similar unfortunate situations is the realization that Harvard at both times has found few friends in the Cambridge government or the State legislature willing to spring to the University's defense.

Harvard's failure, like Brown's success are, to a certain degree, unique; every college's policy must in part be dictated by the special requirements and peculiarities of the community where it is located. But, though it is ridiculous to assume that Brown's methods for successful town-gown relations provide a simple answer to Harvard's administrative woes, Massachusetts Hall could find in them at least some examples of how another Ivy League city college gets along with the ruling powers and the local citizens.

Brown's administrators have little trouble with either the city of Providence or the state of Rhode Island. Indeed each side is constantly striving to co-operate with the other. In 1956, when the land on which Brown's new Dexter-Aldrich athletic facilities are being built was first offered for sale, President Barnaby C. Keeney confidently expressed Brown's interest and need for the property in the knowledge that "our relations with the city have long been mutually beneficial."

In 1957 Brown bid $1 million for the 39-acre plot, at least $200,000 above its top value. (Harvard has offered $1 million dollars more than the market value of the MTA yards.) Keeney's statement said in part: "We are aware that many will regard the price paid by us as large, but we wished to pay a price which will give a clear indication of our appreciation of our long and pleasant relationship with the City of Providence." Mayor Walter H. Reynolds (a non-college graduate but now an honorary Brown alumnus) first said that he would "see what he could do" when the university asked for the land, then was was instrumental in completing the sale.

Affairs, of course, are not always quite that pleasant. Occasionally, a legislator will take the floor in the State House, attack Brown as a "million-dollar hotel for out-of-state boys," and then insist that the university's property be put on the tax rolls. These incidents do not happen often, however, and when they do, there is always a large delegation of loyal Brown alumni and friends in the R.I. General Assembly, the Providence City Council, and other government branches ready to defend the university.

The charge sometimes heard that Brown is a haven for rich boys and tough on local students is said to be completely erroneous. According to D. Bruce Hutchinson, Assistant Director of Admissions, Rhode Island boys are Brown's first responsibility. Although the college is naturally concerned with geographical distribution, Hutchinson asserted, "The local boys admitted hardly begin to fill up the college."

Brown's attitude towards a qualified local student is that "he should be admitted as one of the neighbor's children." It is precisely this attitude as a neighbor and integral member of the community that makes Brown's administrative relations with the government and the people so pleasant and fruitful.

Because the university is constantly working to build up a reservoir of good will in the city, both the commercial and social sides of Providence respect Brown. Administration and Faculty never hesitate to move in when they can be of use in a civic problem, and Brown often co-operates with local citizens' groups to bring cultural and political events to Providence.

More than anything else, perhaps, it is this conscious concern for the welfare of the community which has made the people of Providence anxious to see Brown succeed and expand. It is a key to pleasant town-gown relations which seems to be lacking in Harvard's relations with Cambridge.