Brown was the first college in the nation to accept students regardless of religious affiliations. The school also has the oldest undergraduate engineering program in the Ivy League (1847).
The Brown "New Curriculum," instituted in 1969, eliminates distribution requirements and mandatory A/B/C grades (allowing any course to be taken on a "satisfactory/no credit" basis). Moreover, there are no pluses (+), minuses (-), or grades of D in the grading system.
Since 2001, Brown's current and 18th president has been Ruth J. Simmons, the first African American president and second female president of an Ivy League institution, as well as the first permanent female president of Brown.
The school colors are seal brown, cardinal red, and white. Brown's mascot is the bear and the varsity sports teams are called the Brown Bears. The costumed bear mascot named "Bruno" makes appearances at athletic games. The use of a bear as the University's mascot dates back to 1904. People associated with the University are known as Brunonians.
Admission to Brown is extremely competitive, with an overall admissions rate of 13.8% for the class of 2010. The class of 2011 had an admittance rate of 13.5%. The regular decision acceptance rate for the Class of 2010 was 12.6%, and the regular decision acceptance rate of the Class of 2011 was 12.3% The admission rate for the class of 2012 was 13.3%. Brown will begin using the Common Application starting in the Fall of 2008.
More than one-third of the members of the Class of 2010 scored above 750 on the verbal or math sections of the SAT I: Reasoning Test. Approximately 15 percent of the students in the Class of 2010 graduated number one or number two in their high school classes. Students come from all 50 states, as well as 62 countries.
The 2008 U.S. News & World Report rankings rate Brown tied with Stanford as the seventh most selective college in the country. According to a study entitled "Revealed Preference Ranking," by three Harvard, Wharton, and Boston University economics professors, published in December 2005 by the NBER, Brown ranks seventh (between Princeton and Columbia) in the country when students are choosing which of the schools to which they are admitted to attend. Brown ranks fifth when the Revealed Preference Ranking method focuses on students interested in humanities and social studies and seventh for students interested in the sciences and mathematics. A notable fact is that Brown ranks ahead of all the Ivy League schools other than Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. According to a 2007 Princeton Review survey of colleges, Brown is the fourth most selective college in America, and Brown's students are the happiest.
The 2008 U.S. News & World Report, which gives weight to factors like selectivity, graduation rates, student retention rates, the quality of financial aid, endowment, and "peer-evaluation" scores, rated Brown 16th. THES-QS World University Rankings which places the most value of a college in its peer-review and research, placed Brown 29th in the world.
Brown has recently adopted a brand new financial aid policy which eliminates loans for all students whose family incomes are under $100,000. Furthermore, Brown has also eliminated all parental contributions for families whose incomes fall under $60,000. The program allocates approximately $70 million towards financial aid.
92 to 95% of Brown students are admitted to one of their top three law school choices. For business schools the figure is nearly 100%. Finally, Brown consistently ranks in the top 5 colleges in the country in terms of the percentage of students accepted into medical school. In the 2008 Center for College Affordability & Productivity (CCAP) college rankings in an article on Forbes.com ranked Brown University at 5th in the country among "National Universities. The criteria for college rankings at CCAP is mainly based on student evaluations (posted on ratemyprofessor.com), graduation rates and percentage of students winning Rhodes as well as Fulbright scholarships. For vocational success, CCAP looks at Who's Who in America.
In 1763, James Manning, a Baptist minister, was sent to Rhode Island by the Philadelphia Association of Baptist Churches in order to found a college. At the same time, local Congregationalists, led by Ezra Stiles, were working toward a similar end. On March 3, 1764, a charter was filed to create the College of Rhode Island in Warren, Rhode Island, reflecting the work of both Stiles and Manning.
The charter had more than sixty signatories, including John and Nicholas Brown of the Brown family, who would give the College its modern name. The college's mission, the charter stated, was to prepare students "for discharging the Offices of Life" by providing instruction "in the Vernacular Learned Languages, and in the liberal Arts and Sciences. The charter's language has long been interpreted by the university as discouraging the founding of a business school or law school. Brown continues to be one of only two Ivy League colleges with neither a business school nor a law school (the other being Princeton).
The charter required that the makeup of the board of thirty-six trustees include twenty-two Baptists, five Friends, four Congregationalists, and five Church of England members, and by twelve Fellows, of whom eight, including the President, should be Baptists "and the rest indifferently of any or all denominations." It specified that "into this liberal and catholic institution shall never be admitted any religious tests, but on the contrary, all the members hereof shall forever enjoy full, free, absolute, and uninterrupted liberty of conscience." One of the Baptist founders, John Gano, had also been the founding minister of the First Baptist Church in the City of New York. The Encyclopedia Britannica Eleventh Edition remarks that "At the time it was framed the charter was considered extraordinarily liberal" and that "the government has always been largely non-sectarian in spirit.
James Manning, the minister sent to Rhode Island by the Baptists, was sworn in as the College's first president in 1765. The College of Rhode Island moved to its present location on College Hill, in the East Side of Providence, in 1770 and construction of the first building, The College Edifice, began. This building was renamed University Hall in 1823. The Brown family — Nicholas, John, Joseph and Moses — were instrumental in the move to Providence, funding and organizing much of the construction of the new buildings. The family's connection with the college was strong: Joseph Brown became a professor of Physics at the University, and John Brown served as treasurer from 1775 to 1796. In 1804, a year after John Brown's death, the University was renamed Brown University in honor of John's nephew, Nicholas Brown, Jr., who was a member of the class of 1786 and contributed $5,000 (which, adjusted for inflation, is approximately $61,000 in 2005, though it was 1,000 times the roughly $5 tuition) toward an endowed professorship. In 1904, the John Carter Brown Library was opened as an independent historical and cultural research center based around the libraries of John Carter Brown and John Nicholas Brown.
The Brown family was involved in various business ventures in Rhode Island, including the slave trade; the family itself was divided on the issue. John Brown had unapologetically defended slavery, while Moses Brown and Nicholas Brown Jr. were fervent abolitionists. In recognition of this history, the University established the University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice in 2003.
Brown began to admit women when it established a Women's College in 1891, which was later named Pembroke College. "The College" (the undergraduate school) merged with Pembroke College in 1971 and became co-educational.
Stephen Hopkins, Chief Justice and Governor of colonial Rhode Island, was later a Delegate to the Colonial Congress in Albany in 1754 and to the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1776. He was a signatory to the United States Declaration of Independence on behalf of the state of Rhode Island. He also served as the first chancellor of Brown (at the time called the College of Rhode Island) from 1764 to 1785. His house is a minor historical site, located just off the main quadrangle at Brown.
James Manning was also a delegate for Rhode Island to the Continental Congress in 1786.
In 1781, allied American and French armies under the command of General George Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau, who led troops sent by King Louis XVI of France, embarked on a march from Rhode Island to Virginia, where they fought and defeated British forces sent by King George III of the United Kingdom on the Yorktown, Virginia peninsula. The victory ended the major battles of the American Revolutionary War. Prior to the march, Brown University served as an encampment site for French troops, and the College Edifice, now University Hall, was turned into a military hospital.
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. The adoption of the New Curriculum in 1969, marking a major change in University's institutional history, was a significant step towards realizing President Wayland's vision. The curriculum was the result of a paper written by Ira Magaziner and Elliot Maxwell entitled "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 group was inspired by student-initiated experimental schools, especially San Francisco State College, and sought ways to improve education for students at Brown. The philosophy they formed sought to "put students at the center of their education" and to "teach students how to think rather than just teaching facts."
The paper made a number of suggestions for improving education at Brown, including a new kind of interdisciplinary freshman course that would introduce new modes of inquiry and bring faculty from different fields together. Their goal was to transform the survey course, which traditionally sought to cover a large amount of basic material, into specialized courses that would introduce the important modes of inquiry used in different disciplines.
Following a student rally in support of reform, President Ray Heffner appointed the Special Committee on Curricular Philosophy with the task of developing specific reforms. These reforms, known as the Maeder Report (after the chair of the committee), were then brought to the faculty for a vote. On May 7, 1969, following a marathon meeting with 260 professors present, the New Curriculum was passed. Its key features included the following:
Except for the Modes of Thought courses, a key component of the reforms which have been discontinued, these elements of the New Curriculum are still in place.
Additionally, due to the school's proximity and close partnership with the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Brown students have the opportunity to take up to four courses at RISD and have the credit count towards a Brown degree. Likewise, RISD students can also take courses at Brown. Since the two campuses are effectively adjacent to each other, the two institutions often partner to provide both student bodies with services (such as the local Brown/RISD after-hours and downtown transportation shuttles). A joint degree program has been announced which would allow students to pursue an A.B. degree at Brown and a B.F.A. degree at RISD simultaneously, taking five years to complete this course of study.
As recently as 2006, there has been some debate on reintroducing plus/minus grading to the curriculum. Advocates argue that adding pluses and minuses would reduce grade inflation and allow professors to give more specific grades, while critics say that this plan would have no effect on grade inflation while increasing unnecessary competition among students and violating the principle of the New Curriculum. Ultimately, the addition of pluses and minuses to the grading system was voted down by the College Curriculum Council.
The University is currently in the process of broadening and expanding its curricular offerings as part of the "Plan for Academic Enrichment." The number of faculty has been greatly expanded. Seminars aimed at freshmen have begun to be offered widely by most departments.
As a part of the re-accreditation process, Brown University is undergoing an expansive reevaluation of its undergraduate education offerings through the newly appointed Task Force on Undergraduate Education. This Task Force is charged with assessing the areas of general education, concentrations, advising, and pedagogy and assessment.
The Report of the Brown University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice also offers a wealth of historical records and teaching materials available to the public worldwide regarding an important period in the history of the Ivy League, pre-Revolutionary New England and Triangular Trade contributions to the ascendance of Great Britain's leading universities, including the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge, prior to the 1807 Act of Parliament which outlawed the use of British ships in any aspect of the slave trade. St. John's College, Cambridge has received funding to conduct inquiries similar to those led by the Brown Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice but naturally focused on the benefits flowing from the Triangular Trade which accrued to the British Empire and the United Kingdom's most prestigious institutions of learning, including those of Oxbridge. As part of the commemoration of the Bicentenary of the Act of 1807 at Cambridge, President Simmons gave a public lecture at St. John's College entitled "Hidden in Plain Sight: Slavery and Justice in Rhode Island.
The records are maintained by the Center for Digital Initiatives at Brown.
As one feature of the official February 2007 Response of Brown University to the Report of the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, President Simmons announced Brown's decision to create a U.S.$10 Million Endowment (£5,043,100.00; €7,400,000.00; ¥1,192,950,000.00) intended to benefit public schools in Providence, Rhode Island in part by funding graduate fellowships in urban education. This initiative echoes recommendations of former Brown University president Vartan Gregorian who suggested in several public addresses that the best remedy for the United States in its efforts to address the legacies of slavery and racial discrimination was to redouble commitments to K-12 education nationally. In that spirit, Dr. Simmons noted: "Lack of access to a good education, particularly for urban schoolchildren, is one of the most pervasive and pernicious social problems of our time. Colleges and universities are uniquely able to improve the quality of urban schools. Brown is committed to undertaking that work.
Brown's response to the Report of the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice was published in the year marking the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade by the British Empire following a lengthy campaign by the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade and the successor Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, as reported by the Oxford Today magazine and presented at Rhodes House in Oxford.
The medical school is known for its eight-year Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME), which was started in 1984 and is one of the most selective programs in the nation. Each year, approximately 60 high school students matriculate into the PLME out of an applicant pool of about 1,600. Since 1976, the Early Identification Program (EIP) has encouraged Rhode Island residents to pursue careers in medicine by recruiting sophomores from Providence College, Rhode Island College, the University of Rhode Island, and Tougaloo College. In 2004, the school once again began to accept applications from premedical students at other colleges and universities via AMCAS like most other medical schools. The medical school also offers combined degree programs leading to the M.D./Ph.D., M.D./M.P.H. and M.D./M.P.P. degrees.
The John Hay Library is the second oldest library on campus. It was named for John Hay (Class of 1858), the private secretary and assistant to Abraham Lincoln, at the request of Andrew Carnegie, who contributed half of the $300,000 cost of the building. Constructed with Vermont white marble in an English Renaissance style, the library was dedicated on November 10, 1910 and had an estimated collection of 300,000 volumes. Amongst other things, the library contains three books bound in human skin.
Brown is the largest institutional landowner in Providence, with properties in the East Side and the Jewelry District. Unlike some other schools, there are also no clear physical landmarks to determine where Brown's campus begins or ends.
There is no official designation of different campus areas from the University, but the institution's buildings can be roughly categorized as follows.
The main campus area can be subdivided further into the inner, traditional campus greens and the outer neighborhood. The two greens, the Main Green and Lincoln Field, are large grass fields perpendicular to each other. These two areas contain many of the larger and more traditional academic and dormitory buildings, including University Hall (1770). This part of the main campus is enclosed by brick and rod iron fence, with the Van Wickle Gates serving as the prominent entrance on College Street. It is this area that is featured in most publications and photographs of Brown's campus.
Outside of the gates, but still considered part of the main campus, are other University buildings and libraries that have been built at Brown over the centuries. This includes the Wriston Quad to the south the Main Green, the John Hay Library and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library directly across the street from the Van Wickle Gates, and the Sciences Library and Thomas J. Watson, Sr. Center for Information Technology (CIT) adjacent to the Soldiers Memorial Gate. Because this area is not confined by the gates, Brown has been able to acquire larger plots of land and construct much larger buildings as the University has expanded.
Adjacent to Brown's main campus, and further down the Hill to the west by the Providence River, is the campus of the Rhode Island School of Design. Thayer Street, which runs through Brown's campus, is a commercial district that hosts many restaurants and shops popular with students and faculty from Brown and RISD.
The area was officially designated the East Campus in 1971.
Under President Ruth Simmons, the University has launched a Campaign for Academic Enrichment. This campaign consists of re-evaluating the existing curriculum and raising $1.4 billion for greater academic ambition. The money will be used for academic programs, research, new facilities, biology and medicine, students who need financial assistance, and expanding the faculty and staff. Currently, $1.240 billion has been raised.
Some ongoing projects:
Brown is a member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Ivy League athletic conference. It sponsors 37 varsity intercollegiate teams. Its athletics program has been featured in the College Sports Honor Roll as one of the top 20 athletic programs in the country according to U.S. News & World Report. Brown Women's Rowing Team has won 6 national titles in the last 12 years and Brown Football won the 2005 Ivy League Championships and shared the 1999 Ivy League title with Yale. Brown's Men's Soccer program is consistently ranked in the top 25 and has won 18 Ivy League titles overall, including 8 of the last 12. Recent graduates play professionally in Major League Soccer and overseas. Brown's Varsity Equestrian team won the Ivy League Championships for the past two years in a row, and has consistently performed extremely well within the team's zone and region. Brown also features several competitive intercollegiate club sports, including its nationally ranked sailing, Taekwondo, Ultimate, and Rugby union teams. In 2005, the men's ultimate team, Brownian Motion, won the national championship, and the football team won its first-ever outright Ivy League title. Brown's table tennis team finished in first place and were undefeated in the New England division of National College Table Tennis Association (NCTTA) in the 2006-2007 season and earned a spot in the National competition. In 2007, Brown won its first Ivy League baseball championship in school history. In the 2006-2007 season, the Brown Women's Rugby team won the Ivy League championship and currently ranked in the top ten of college teams.
12.7% of Brown students are in fraternities or sororities. There are eleven residential Greek houses: six all-male fraternities (Alpha Epsilon Pi, Delta Tau, Delta Phi, Theta Delta Chi, Sigma Chi, and Phi Kappa Psi), two sororities (Alpha Chi Omega and Kappa Alpha Theta), one co-ed literary fraternity (St. Anthony Hall), one co-ed fraternity (Zeta Delta Xi), and one co-ed literary society (Alpha Delta Phi). All recognized Greek letter organizations live on-campus in University-owned dorm housing. Ten of the houses are overseen by the Greek Council and are located on Wriston Quadrangle. St. Anthony Hall, a co-ed fraternity that does not participate in Greek Council, is located in King House.
An alternative to fraternity life at Brown are the program houses, which are organized around various themes. As with Greek houses, the existing residents of each house take applications from students, usually at the start of the Spring semester. Examples of program houses include: Buxton International House, the Machado French/Hispanic House, Art House, Technology House, Harambee House, Culinary Arts (Cooking) House, West House and Interfaith House.
Currently, there are three student cooperative houses at Brown. Two of the houses, Watermyn and Finlandia on Waterman Street, are owned by the Brown Association for Cooperative Housing (BACH), an independent non-profit corporation owned and operated by house members. Founded by students in 1970, BACH is the only student owned and managed co-op in the nation and is famous for its annual naked party.
The third co-op, West House, is located in a Brown-owned house on Brown Street. All three houses also run a vegetarian food co-op for residents and non-residents.
The Van Wickle Gates, dedicated on June 18, 1901, have a pair of center gates and a smaller gate on each side. The side gates remain open throughout the year, while the center gates remain closed except for two occasions each year. At the beginning of the academic year, the center gates open inward to admit students during Convocation. At the end of the second semester, the gates open outward for the Commencement Day procession. A traditional superstition is that students who pass through the gates for a second time before graduation do not graduate. The Brown Band famously flaunts this tradition by marching in the yearly commencement procession. Undergraduate members, however, walk through the gates backwards, thereby avoiding the hex.
According to ''Encyclopedia Brunoniana, "on Friday, May 13, 1955, an anonymous gift of $101.01 was received by the University from Professor Carberry to establish the Josiah S. Carberry Fund in memory of his 'future late wife.' A condition of the gift was that, henceforth, every Friday the 13th would be designated 'Carberry Day,' and on that day friends of the University would deposit their loose change in brown jugs to augment the fund, which is used to purchase 'such books as Professor Carberry might or might not approve of.'" Students have followed this tradition ever since, and the fund currently has over $10,000 in it.
"Professor Carberry has been the subject of articles in a number of periodicals, including the New York Times, which proclaimed him 'The World’s Greatest Traveler' on the front page of its Sunday travel section in 1974, and in Yankee magazine, where he was 'The Absent-Bodied Professor' in 1975. A recent honor which came to Professor Carberry was the award to him of an Ig Nobel Prize at the First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony in 1991. At this event sponsored by M.I.T. and the Journal of Irreproducible Results, Carberry, the 1991 Ig Nobel Interdisciplinary Research Prize laureate, was cited as 'bold explorer and eclectic seeker of knowledge, for his pioneering work in the field of psychoceramics, the study of cracked pots.'
In addition, the Computer Science department at Brown is home to The CAVE, part of the CIT. This project is a complete virtual reality room, one of few in the world, and is used for everything from three-dimensional drawing classes to tours of the circulatory system for medical students.
In 2000, a group of students from the university's Technology House converted the south side of the Sciences Library into a giant video display which allowed bystanders to play Tetris, the largest of its kind ever in the Western Hemisphere. Constructed from eleven custom-built circuit boards, a twelve-story data network, a personal computer running Linux, a radio-frequency video game controller, and over 10,000 Christmas lights, the project was named La Bastille and could be seen for several miles.