First Day Back

By Zachary Block '99 / November / December 2002
June 28th, 2007
The procession of incoming undergraduates through the Van Wickle Gates so thoroughly dominates Opening Convocation that it's hard to believe the academic year ever started differently. In fact, students began walking in through the gates only in 1980; before then they sat on the Green and watched administrators and professors file in.

This year President Ruth Simmons made the procession even bigger by including new medical and graduate students, a move that signaled her emphasis on bolstering Brown's graduate programs and integrating their students more fully into University life. Transfer and Resumed Undergraduate Education (RUE) students were also invited to join the trek up College Hill for the first time in memory, although the transfer students carried a hand-lettered paper sign instead of a cloth banner.

This new twist on an established tradition was a fitting opening to a convocation that featured a keynote address titled "The Future Ain't What It Used To Be" delivered by longtime computer-science professor Andries van Dam, who later in the day was named to the newly created position of vice president for research. Ticking off a list of impending scientific breakthroughs, van Dam tried to prepare the students for a life that will be profoundly transformed by technology. "You will live in a science-fiction future," he said, assuring the students that persistence and hard work, the same skills that will foster success at Brown, will help them navigate the transformed societal landscape.

Change was also at the heart of the year's first faculty meeting, held later in the day. Welcoming the faculty back to campus, Simmons reflected on a summer spent implementing her Initiatives for Academic Enrichment. By February, Simmons said, she hopes to present the Corporation with a "plan for Brown," the nonacademic counterpoint to the academic proposal the Corporation approved earlier this year. The plan, she hopes, will detail a master vision for the physical campus, goals for fund-raising, and improvements to facilities and student life.

Along with the news that van Dam would join Simmons's hand-picked senior-management team came a similar announcement that Professor of English and Comparative Literature Karen Newman would become dean of the Graduate School. These two appointments round out an administration that includes a new provost, University of Chicago mathematician and administrator Robert Zimmer; a new executive vice president for research and administration, Elizabeth Huidekoper of Harvard; a new senior vice president for advancement, Northwestern's Ronald Vanden Dorpel '71 A.M.; a new vice president for computing and information services, Ellen Waite-Franzen of the University of Richmond; and a new interim dean of medicine and biological sciences, Richard Besdine of the Brown Medical School.

"I've never been so excited about the opening of an academic year," Simmons told the faculty.

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November / December 2002