Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Brown Curriculum

The Chronicle has a profile of Prof. Ruth Simmons who will be stepping down as President of Brown University at the end of this academic year. She is the first African American president (and so far, the only one) of an Ivy League university, and her Presidential career is nearly 17-years strong -- six years at Smith, and eleven at Brown. The profile covers quite a bit of ground, so you will have to go read it. What I wanted to highlight here is something that I learned through the article: the Brown Curriculum.

The freewheeling nature of Brown, however, is also one of its assets, Ms. Simmons added. In 1969 the university adopted the "New Curriculum," which allows students to chart their own courses of study.

That curriculum is a piece of Brown's distinctiveness, but it is also something its presidents are often called upon to defend and explain.

"This model we have might seem lax, but we think of it as being a very challenging and rigorous approach, fit for students who are highly motivated, very intelligent, and able to handle the responsibility of the open curriculum," Ms. Simmons said.

The same sorts of students for whom Brown is a good fit are also prone to questioning authority, and Ms. Simmons has faced some tough questions during her tenure.

"I don't think anybody fears me," she said in March. "I say that with a little bit of regret."


  1. Dilip D'Souza said...

    Possibly my biggest regret about my time at Brown is not taking enough advantage of the liberal curriculum. A fine university, Brown, down to the statue of Marcus Aurelius that dominates one of the lawns.

  2. Kaustubh said...

    Indiana University allows its student to design own curricula for any degree..most famous example is Will Shortz, editor of nytimes crossword who graduated in enigmatology.

  3. Unknown said...

    I have had discussions on similar lines of Brown Curriculum with a friend, back in Undergraduate days. Can we experiment with this approach in some courses at IISc / any department? It would be interesting to see how it works here.