Transcript of Online Q+A with President Paxson

Conducted Friday, February 27, 2015 on the UCS Facebook Page.  Lightly edited for clarity.  The full, original conversation is available on Facebook here.

Krishan Aghi: What is currently being done to institutionalize programs around diversity, alcohol education, etc. for students who aren't just first years? Specifically, how is knowledge from the Orientation programs being made available to every student on campus?

Paxson: Thanks for this question. This is very much a work in progress. The Sexual Assault Task Force will develop recommendations on education, and I expect we will have a "continuing education" program that requires members of the Brown community to learn about these issues on an on-going basis. Alcohol education also needs this continuous approach. At Brown, It is difficult to broach the issue of "mandatory" education. We will need help and input from students in developing programs that are interesting, informative and effective. On diversity, I am excited about the Transformative Conversations Project, the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, and other initiatives. Issues of diversity should be parts of many conversations and many programs, and not siloed. 

Kevin Garcia: What is your favorite Thayer Street eatery? Also, How do you feel about cats?

Paxson: With no disrespect to the restaurants on Thayer Street, I'm more of a Wickenden Street person. I like the Ethiopian restaurant, and the Cambodian restaurant. I love cats but don't have one now. Too many people are allergic. And I don't think my two standard poodles would welcome a cat...

Sam Rubinstein: What do you think the biggest accomplishment of your tenure is thus far? 

Paxson: Sam, I cannot give you a single thing! I am very proud that BrownConnect is up and running, helping students find (and fund) great internships. I am glad that we have the Engineering/Applied Math projects funded and underway, and that the South Street Landing Project is poised to begin. I am happy about the expansion of the RUE program--this is a small program, but very special. Most of all, I am fortunate to have built a great senior team, which is working with me to implement the strategic plan. I couldn’t do it without them.

Jared Cohen: If you could take any class at Brown (or teach any class) what would it be and why?

Paxson: I am teaching a course on Health Disparities right now. It is a sophomore seminar. I hope the students like taking it as much as I like teaching it. If I could take any course, it would probably be a computer science course. I love to code, but my skills are out of date.

Elena Saltzman: You've set a goal to increase the study body by 1% each year over the next several years. Where are all these new students going to live? Will Brown be building another dorm?

Paxson: We are in the middle of a careful study of just that. We may have a slight increase in the number of students living off-campus. However, it seems very likely that a new dorm will be needed in the next 3-5 years. We have added about 300 beds to the campus in the past several years, which gives us some breathing space.

MinJung Han: What do you think about Brown's relationship with its alumni, both old and young? Is there a lot of interaction, and does Brown reflect alum's feedback in planning initiatives and whatnot?

Paxson: Brown alumni are very active and very engaged. I just returned from a visit to Florida (yes, February is a great time to go there) and I met with many alumni from the classes of the 50's and 60's, up through very recent graduates. We have literally hundreds of alumni who serve on university advisory councils. They give us advice and feedback on nearly everything we do. Like Brown students, our alumni can be counted on to give intelligent, independent opinions on what we are doing. 

Han: Also, what do you think is(are) the most underutilized resource(s) at Brown and how do you think that can be changed?

Paxson: The John Carter Brown Library, which sits right on the Main Green, is an amazing library of the early Americas. I hope every student spends some time there while he or she is here. The other is the City of Providence--I know many students volunteer at local organizations, but there is a lot more that can be done. Go to the Swearer Center and learn about opportunities that will get you off of College Hill!

Brianna Cox: While the Transformative Conversations Initiative is taking place and more diverse perspectives are being represented on campus, are there any current plans in the works to make particularly issues of race and racism at Brown a point of discussion?

Paxson: There is a great deal of conversation already taking place. For example, I will be going to a CSREA conference this afternoon on "Race Today." Next weekend, Brown is hosting a Diversity Summit. This will be advertised in Morning Mail. I know there are a number of student groups who are involved in creating more opportunities to talk about structural racism--for example the Students Against The Prison Industrial Complex had a teach-in this week. I expect the energy around this set of issues will continue, which is a great thing.

Julian Fox: How will the new School of Engineering building match the rest of the campus architecturally? How do you plan to make new buildings aesthetically fit the historic nature of College Hill?

Paxson: Good question. The architect for the new engineering building and the new applied math buildings have been paying a lot of attention to this. The Applied Math building is actually more of a challenge, since it fronts on a historic district on Hope Street. I think the architect for this project has done a great job, with input from neighbors. We have a great landscape architect who will work to knit everything together.

Ryan Lee: What is one (or several) concrete goal(s) you most want to accomplish as university president?

Paxson: Concrete goals: (1) Increase financial aid for undergraduate and graduate students, (2) Build strength in interdisciplinary areas of education and scholarship; (3) Endow more faculty chairs (since it helps us recruit and retain the best faculty); (4) Partner with the state in developing Rhode Island’s economy (in ways that also strengthens Brown.) 

Dara Bernstein: when do you expect renovations of the Ratty to take place?

Paxson: Good question. I don't have an answer yet. We are doing careful planning. We'll then need to do a significant amount of fund-raising. We also need to figure out where people will eat while the renovations are in progress. This will all take some time. Unless you are a first-year student, you are unlikely to eat in a new Ratty.

Lauren Pierce: Do you visit dorms often-- namely, have you ever been in Grad Center? What do you think of it?

Paxson: I did a dorm tour when I first started, and I have been in a number of dorms since then...but the Grad Center was not on the tour. Do you think I should visit?

Pierce: I do think so! Especially as a significant number of students live there, and it is quite old. I think it's a good example of how Brown should be investing in current students more than prospective students. 

Samantha Rose: What's your favorite memory of a moment spent at Brown?

Paxson: I would have to say the 250th fireworks celebration. I love it in memory only--while the fireworks were actually happening, I was terrified that a spark would burn down University Hall. Not a good way to kick off a 250th celebration.

A more serious answer, though, also related to the 250th: the panels with alumni during the March celebration--with Jim Kim, and Maggie Hassan, and other incredible Brown alumni--made it so clear how much Brown matters, and what an impact our alumni have on the world.

(Brown 250 Executive Director) Eve Ornstedt: Thank you DPS, Facilities, University Events, PFD, EHS, Pyrotecnico FX and the many other people/departments that made the night so great and the alumni, staff, student groups and academic departments who made the programs so reflective of Brown's past present and future! #brown250 and there's a great recap at if anyone else had to shut their eyes/missed it!

Danielle Perelman: What is the one club you would join if you were a student?

Paxson: If I was a student...and if I could sing...I would join one of the a capella groups. I love them. My other favorite is the Brown Band.

Christina Jimenez: What do you consider to be your biggest challenge to date? How have you conquered it / worked on conquering it?

Paxson: The biggest challenges are ones for which the solution aren’t clear. At Brown, I think the most difficult issues have to do with campus climate and culture—how to make the community more welcoming; how to make diversity of thought be an asset rather than something that is divisive. These issues are hard. I think the Transformative Conversations project is a start. I think the “Now. Hear. This.” Project is fantastic.

Now Here This: Hey, thanks! We're big fans of Transformative Conversations too.

 Dan Haugh: Where did the food trucks go?

Paxson: Not Brown's decision! I love the food trucks. I expect it has something to do with the snow...

Peter Dutton: If you could improve one thing about Brown, what would it be?

Paxson: I get only one thing? I hate to sound too much like an economist, but I want Brown to have a stronger financial base, so that we can do all of the great things people here aspire to.

Ryan Anderson: Many students feel that the measures taken to address sexual assault on campus have created an environment that encourages off-campus drinking, which often times is more dangerous than on-campus drinking. How would you respond to this and what other measures would you take to prevent sexual assault?

Paxson: This is complicated. Please don’t mix up actions taken to prevent alcohol abuse with actions taken to prevent sexual assault. Although they are sometimes related, they are both serious and distinct public health problems. I can’t do justice to either of these two problems in a short answer, but I’d be glad to discuss them with you (or anyone else) in other venues. 

Malik Jarvis: Do you ever eat at any of the campus eateries?

Paxson: Yes, you can often find me at the Blue Room first thing in the morning. But I get to work before most students are awake...

Brandon Lê: VDub or Ratty, and why? Also, Andrews Commons or Jo's, and why?

Christina Paxson: The Ratty. Its close to my house. It feels like the quintessential 1950's cafeteria. It needs to be renovated, but I hope the feel of it stays the same in some ways.

Sherry Zhang: Who is your favorite musician?

Christina Paxson: I will probably be dating myself. I love Motown. Marvn Gaye, Stevie Wonder. And I like jazz violin: Jean Luc Ponty, Stephane Grappelli. My son introduced me to Lindsey Stirling, who I like a lot.

Zhang: That's awesome!

Jamie Marsicano: How much money does Brown University have invested in the private prison companies such as Corrections Corporation of America,GEO Group, and others, as well as companies that contract with them?

Paxson: To my knowledge, Brown has no investments in private prisons.

Marsicano: Has this been confirmed with the investment office? Also what about investment in companies that contract with private prisons? And companies that rely on prison labor?

Paxson: On contracting, the investment office told me that, as far as they know, we invest in a company that provides phone service to prisons. I can't answer the labor issue at this point.

Marguerite Joutz: Will you go to the GCB with me? 

President Christina Paxson: Margeurite, I will go anywhere with you! 

Tina Choi: What color do you see #TheDress as?

Paxson: It's white and gold. What else could be there?! 

Paxson: Thanks to everyone for your questions, and for joining me in this experiment. Let me know if you think I should continue to have virtual office hours.

UCS: We appreciate you spending time talking to students! We're exctied to do this again!