With 5300 undergraduates, Brown is one of the smallest schools in the Ivy League, but the school nonetheless attracted a hefty chunk of this year's Ivy applicant pool and a corresponding amount of media attention when it fielded an impressive 13,250 prospective members for the class of 1987.
Aside from barreling the school to the front of the Ivy competition, the stunning increase also forced the Brown campus community to examine flattering label "model school of the '80s."
Just about everyone on Brown's campus agrees that one undeniable reason the school attracts such large numbers of applicants is the "New Curriculum," designed jointly by students and faculty in 1969. The program quite simply has no requirements whatsoever. It demands a great deal of personal discipline but amazingly little else. Undergraduates hail the freedom it allows them to sample every department's offerings as particularly convenient.
To encourage further "risk taking" without penalties, failing grades, mercifully, never appear on a student's transcript. Although there is general agreement that this is the area where the most abuse of the unstructured curriculum occurs, students say they value the liberty to dabble in departments other than their own.
Junior Christopher C. Gregory, an engineering major, says the system has convinced him to take humanities courses because he knows a 'no credit' grade in one of them would never reach the eyes of prospective employers. "I think you can explore more. I was able to take a philosophy course without sweating about it," he says.
The Curriculum Review Committee, which makes recommendations to the administration on problems within the program, spent much of this past year discussing this concern with distribution. Faculty member Joan Scott, professor of women's studies, says that around 90 percent of Brown students already take at least one class outside their majors and that the other 10 percent are mainly science concentrators.
"The overwhelming sense is that the system works quite well as it is and there is no point in changing what seems to be working," Scott explains.
Yet despite the fact that a majority of the students select courses eclectically, the committee still worries about the insular minority. Scott adds that there is a possibility of instituting an optional core curriculum to combat the problem.
Although this option is still under discussion, the administration will probably broaden departmental guidelines in the near future. Dean of the College Harriet Sheridan, who is chairman of the Educational Policy Committee, will most likely recommend strongly that more concentrations next year adopt related outside requirements such as a foreign language component or a computer literacy requirement.
The administration prides itself on the number of counselors and academic advisers available to freshmen. Besides undergraduate "peer counselors," who form the bulk of the freshman advisory system, there are faculty advisers and in some cases minority peer counselors.
Many freshmen say that they are more comfortable with upperclassman advisers than graduate students. And Bruce Donovan, dean of freshmen and sophomores, says that the system of undergraduate counselors is extremely popular with students--both advisers and advisees. The increase in applicants for counseling positions, from 150 to 300 this year, testifies to its tremendous success, Donovan adds.
"We don't have that fear of youth that other places seem to have," the dean says.
This respect for students' abilities and opinions extends even into administrative affairs, as the vast numbers of student representatives on the university's many committees demonstrates. "Just because someone is on the faculty doesn't mean they'll be any good on a committee," Donovan quips.
Faculty and students serve jointly on the 12 college committees, which make recommendations to the administration on issues concerning administrative policies, student affairs and academics.