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Founded in 1764 as "The College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations," Brown is the seventh-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and one of the nine Colonial Colleges established before the American Revolution. At its foundation, Brown was the first college in the United States to accept students regardless of their religious affiliation. Its engineering program, established in 1847, was the first in what is now known as the Ivy League. Brown's New Curriculum—sometimes referred to in education theory as the Brown Curriculum—was adopted by faculty vote in 1969 after a period of student lobbying; the New Curriculum eliminated mandatory "general education" distribution requirements, made students "the architects of their own syllabus," and allowed them to take any course for a grade of satisfactory or unrecorded no-credit. In 1971, Brown's coordinate women's institution, Pembroke College, was fully merged into the university.
In 1850, Brown President Francis Wayland wrote: "The various courses should be so arranged that, insofar as practicable, every student might study what he chose, all that he chose, and nothing but what he chose." Adopted in 1969, the New Curriculum is a milestone in the University's history and is seen as the realization of Wayland's vision.
The curriculum was the result of a paper written by Ira Magaziner and Elliot Maxwell titled "Draft of a Working Paper for Education at Brown University." The paper came out of a year-long Group Independent Study Project (GISP) involving 80 students and 15 professors. The GISP was inspired by student-initiated experimental schools, especially San Francisco State College, and sought ways to "put students at the center of their education" and "teach students how to think rather than just teaching facts."
The paper made concrete proposals for the new curriculum, including interdisciplinary freshman-year courses that would introduce "modes of thought," with instruction from faculty brought together from different disciplines. The aim was to transform the traditional survey course—often experienced passively by first-year students—into a more engaging process, an investigation of the intellectual and philosophical connections between disciplines. A grading option of Satisfactory/No Credit would be introduced to encourage students to try courses outside their grade-point comfort zone. In practice, this grading innovation of the New Curriculum—sometimes misunderstood and mischaracterized—has been its most successful component, responsible, in the decades since its adoption, for uncounted career-changing decisions—studio art swapped for neuroscience, biology swapped for anthropology, mathematics swapped for playwriting (and Pulitzer Prizes).
On the Front Green at the top of College Hill are Hope College (left), built 1821-22, and Manning Hall, built 1834-35, designed by Russell Warren. Both buildings were the gift of Nicholas Brown, Junior
In the spring of 1969, following student rallies in support of reform, University president Ray Heffner appointed the Special Committee on Curricular Philosophy, tasked with developing specific reforms. The resulting report, called the Maeder Report after its committee chair, was presented to the faculty, which voted the New Curriculum into existence on May 7, 1969. Its key features included:
- Modes of Thought courses for first-year students
- The introduction of interdisciplinary courses
- The abandonment of "general education" distribution requirements
- The Satisfactory/No Credit grading option
- The ABC/No Credit grading system, which eliminated pluses, minuses, and D's; a grade of "No Credit" would not appear on external transcripts.
The Modes of Thought course, a key component in the original conception of the New Curriculum, was early on discontinued, but all of the other elements are still in place. In 2006 the reintroduction of plus/minus grading was broached by persons concerned about grade inflation. After a canvassing of alumni, faculty, and students, including the original authors of the Magaziner-Maxwell Report, the idea was rejected by the College Curriculum Council.
In its 2015 ranking of the "Best Colleges Nationwide," USA Today–College Factual placed Brown 6th (between MIT and Stanford University). The same USA Today–College Factual ranking put Brown 5th (between Harvard University and the University of Virginia) among "Best US Colleges for a Major in English."
The 2013 U.S. News & World Report rankings' peer assessment portion gives the school a score of 4.4, tied with University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, Northwestern, and University of Michigan.
In 2014, Forbes magazine ranked Brown seventh (between Caltech and Princeton University) on its list of "America's Most Entrepreneurial Universities." The Forbes analysis looked at the ratio of "alumni and students who have identified themselves as founders and business owners on LinkedIn" and the total number of alumni and students.
LinkedIn particularized the Forbes rankings, placing Brown third (between MIT and Princeton) among "Best Undergraduate Universities for Software Developers at Startups." LinkedIn's methodology involved a career-path examination of "millions of alumni profiles" in its membership database.
Brown ranked 7th in the country (between Princeton and Columbia) in a study of high school seniors' revealed preferences for matriculation conducted by economists at Harvard, Wharton, and Boston University, and published in 2005 by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The 2008 Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP) ranked Brown 5th in the country among national universities."
Brown ranked 5th in the country in Newsweek/The Daily Beast's "America's Brainiac Schools"—based on the number of prestigious scholarships won (adjusted for student body size), including the Rhodes Scholarship, the Truman Scholarship, the Marshall Scholarship, the Gates Scholarship (since 2001), and the Fulbright scholarship (since 1993). Also factored in are standardized test scores, admissions rates, and students in the top 10 percent of their high school class.
In 2014, U.S. News ranked Brown's Warren Alpert Medical School the 5th most selective in the country, with an acceptance rate of 2.9 percent.
In the 2012 evaluation of MFA writing programs by Poets & Writers Magazine, Brown was ranked 4th in the country, 3rd for selectivity, and 1st in the Ivy League.
The Forbes magazine annual ranking of "America's Top Colleges 2014"—which differs from the U.S. News by putting research universities and liberal arts colleges in a single sequence—ranked Brown 13th overall and 8th among research universities.
U.S. News & World Report ranked Brown 16th in a three way tie with University of Notre Dame and Vanderbilt University among national universities in its 2015 edition. The 2013 edition had ranked Brown 4th for undergraduate teaching, tied with Yale.
As it had in 2007 and 2010, the 2011 Princeton Review email poll of college students ranked Brown 1st in the country for "Happiest Students." Brown is 3rd in the country (tied with Stanford) in the number of students awarded Fulbright grants, according to the October 2010 ranking compiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Residential and Greek societies
Ladd Observatory, built 1890-91, is on the National Register of Historic Places
About 12 percent of Brown students are in fraternities and sororities. There are 11 residential Greek houses: six fraternities (Alpha Epsilon Pi, Delta Phi, Delta Tau, Phi Kappa Psi, Sigma Chi, and Theta Delta Chi; three sororities (Alpha Chi Omega, Kappa Alpha Theta, and Kappa Delta), one co-ed house (Zeta Delta Xi), and one co-ed literary society (Alpha Delta Phi). Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity was present on campus from 1906 to 1939, but was unable to reactivate after WWII due to wartime losses. All recognized Greek-letter organizations are located on campus in Wriston Quadrangle in University-owned housing. They are overseen by the Greek Council.
An alternative to Greek-letter organizations are the program houses organized by themes. As with Greek houses, the residents of program houses select their new members, usually at the start of the Spring semester. Examples of program houses are St. Anthony Hall (located in King House), Buxton International House, the Machado French/Hispanic House, Technology House, Harambee (African culture) House, Social Action House and Interfaith House.
Currently, there are three student cooperative houses at Brown. Two of them, Watermyn and Finlandia on Waterman Street, are owned by the Brown Association for Cooperative Housing (BACH), an non-profit corporation owned by its members. The third co-op, West House, is located in a Brown-owned house on Brown Street. The three organizations run a vegetarian co-op for the larger community.
The largest surviving Hutchings-Votey organ in the world is in Sayles Hall. It has 3,355 pipes and weighs 25 tons. It is pictured here for Brown's traditional Halloween midnight concert.
Societies and clubs
The earliest societies at Brown were devoted to oration and debate. The Pronouncing Society is mentioned in the diary of Solomon Drowne, class of 1773, who was voted its president in 1771. It seems to have disappeared during the Revolutionary War. We next hear of the Misokosmian Society, founded in 1794 and renamed the Philermenian Society in 1798. This was effectively a secret society with membership limited to 45. It met fortnightly to hear speeches and debate and thrived until the Civil War; in 1821 its library held 1594 volumes. In 1799 a chapter of the Philandrian Society, also secret, was established at the College. In 1806 the United Brothers was formed as an egalitarian alternative to the Philermenian Society. "These two great rivals," says the University historian, "divided the student body between them for many years, surviving into the days of President Sears. A tincture of political controversy sharpened their rivalry, the older society inclining to the aristocratic Federals, the younger to the Republicans, the democrats of that day. ... The students continuing to increase in number, they outran the constitutional limits of both societies, and a third, the Franklin Society, was established in 1824; it never had the vitality of the other two, however, and died after ten years." Other nineteenth century clubs and societies, too numerous to treat here, are described in Bronson's history of the University.
The sesquicentennial poster
The Cammarian Club—founded in 1893 and taking its name from the Latin for lobster, its members' favorite dinner food—was at first a semi-secret society which "tapped" 15 seniors each year. In 1915, self-perpetuating membership gave way to popular election by the student body, and thenceforward the Club served as the de facto undergraduate student government. In 1971, unaccountably, it voted the name Cammarian Club out of existence, thereby amputating its tradition and longevity. The successor and present-day organization is the generically-named Undergraduate Council of Students.
Societas Domi Pacificae, known colloquially as "Pacifica House," is a present-day, self-described secret society, which nonetheless publishes a website and an email address. It claims a continuous line of descent from the Franklin Society of 1824, citing a supposed intermediary "Franklin Society" traceable in the nineteenth century. But the intermediary turns out to be, on closer inspection, the well-known Providence Franklin Society, a civic organization unconnected to Brown whose origins and activity are well-documented. It was founded in 1821 by merchants William Grinnell and Joseph Balch, Jr., and chartered by the General Assembly in January 1823. The "Pacifica House" account of this (conflated) Franklin Society cites published mentions of it in 1859, 1876, and 1883. But the first of these (Rhees 1859, see footnote infra) is merely a sketch of the 1824 Brown organization; the second (Stockwell 1876) is a reference-book article on the Providence Franklin Society itself; and the third is the Providence Franklin Society's own publication, which the "Pacifica House" reference mis-ascribes to "Franklin Society," dropping the word "Providence."