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.

The situation, to be sure, is different. Providence is the chief city in Rhode Island and there are naturally many Brown graduates among her influential citizens and government officials; unfortunately, most Massachusetts Harvard graduates tend to live in Boston or the suburbs and have little interest in or control over Cambridge affairs. Equally important is the fact that Harvard is only one of many Greater Boston cultural attractions, while without Brown, Providence would be nearly devoid of many such opportunities.

The fact remains, however, that many Providence residents who do the most for Brown in terms of money, interest, and co-operation never even went to college, let alone graduated from Brown.

Perhaps if the University were to encourage the attendance and interest of local residents at the academic, political, and cultural events it sponsors, Cambridge people too might develop a real affection and need for Harvard.

Brown also has politically wise public relations men who know that "no private institution can make too many enemies." Brown makes a conscious and determined effort to cultivate the politicians of Providence; Harvard would do well to start understanding and respecting the workings of Cambridge city politics.

Charles P. Whitlock, Harvard's Assistant to the President for Civic Affairs, has made a promising start in the field of public relations; indeed many City Councilmen have been impressed with the University's attitude towards the community since Whitlock assumed his post three years ago. This is a start, but one man cannot do the job alone.

Administrative trials are, however, only a part of the town-gown tradition, and in another area--student-police relations--Brown fares much worse than Harvard. More than just spring rioting was involved in a brawl in March between Brown boys and the police outside a Providence restaurant. Rough abuse and foul language, apparently regular features of police action in the Brown community, only increased the antagonism that Brown men feel towards the Providence Police.

The antagonism is also renewed in the daily commuter battle, and this perhaps is the crux of much of the problem. Although many local boys live at the College, Brown still has a large number of commuting students; unfortunately, Providence has no public transportation system approximating the MTA. The result, of course, is that many commuters, in addition to a number of resident students, have cars at school. There is little room in the heavily settled university area for parking facilities, and most students must leave their automobiles on the street, in limited (two-hour) parking spaces.

Enter now the Providence police. In an attempt to enforce strictly the city's parking ordinances, officers cruise around on motorcycles during the day, marking the wheels of the parked cars with chalk. If the mark has not disappeared when the policeman returns in two hours, the student receives a blue ticket and a $3 over-parking fine.

Just as diligent as the police department, howver, is the chalkorasing brigade, made up of commuters and sympathetic resident students, which is duty bound to erase a chalk mark on the wheel of any car in the Brown neighborhood. What perhaps started out as a game, has now become a source of constant friction.

Relations with the police are admittedly worse than usual this spring--largely because of the "Stillwell affair." During the winter, a Pembroke student, Stephanie Stillwell, was stabbed and severly wounded near the college. In an all-out attempt to catch the as yet unapprehended criminal, Providence Police have concentrated an unusually large number of men in the Brown area. Naturally, every time there is a minor student demonstration enough policemen arrive at the scene to turn it into a major problem.

Involvement of Harvard students with the police usually doesn't go much further than a reminder by a Yard cop to "stop riding that bicyle in the Yard." Indeed the recent diploma riots proved the point. Neither the University nor the Cambridge police, unaccustomed to mob demonstrations from Harvard students, seemed quite sure how to handle the demonstration. There was little brutality or violence on either night, and the police used tear gas during the second riot largely so they wouldn't have to spend the entire evening pleading with the crowd to disperse. Police in Cambridge just are not used to serious trouble from Harvard students, and the disciplinary action of the respected if not feared University force is almost always sufficient to keep order around the College.DR. BARNABY C. KEENEY, President of Brown University