A New Curriculum

July 2nd, 2014

In describing the Great Curriculum Reformation of 1969, Ira Magaziner ’69 quotes from among the reformers’ recommendations that “Letter or number grades were not particularly valuable methods of evaluation” (“A New Order,” May/June). However, later in the article, the reformers “rated the faculty members on a scale of one to four” for their value to the reformation. Consistency, I suppose, is the hobgoblin of little minds.

Years ago I met a Brown graduate who wanted a PhD in ecology from the University of Wisconsin but who thought Brown’s cafeteria curriculum had allowed him to avoid the education he needed. Hurt, helped, or unaffected by Brown, he got his degree.

Charles W. McCutchen ’52 ScM
Bethesda, Md.


Magaziner’s piece certainly brings back those heady days of protest and change on the Brown campus, and some of us in earlier classes were even able to enjoy some of the academic benefits from the Maxwell-Magaziner report, as when we were able to take elective courses on a pass-fail basis.

It might also be useful, however, to acknowledge some of the preceding events that allowed the emergence of this “New Order” at Brown, such as the election of Laurel Limpus as Student Government Association president at Pembroke in spring 1966. She campaigned on what was basically a “women’s liberation” platform, demanding the same rights for Pembroke women as those enjoyed by Brown men. Though Laurel did not return to campus in the fall, her election brought about unheard-of changes for women students before there was even such a thing as a women’s liberation movement.

There were many other examples of opportunities to protest at Brown in the earlier part of the sixties, and I think the academic reforms that emerged owe a great deal to these antecedents.

Lynn (Mooney) Hickey ’67
brownalumnimagazine.com comment


Magaziner’s remembrance of the transformation of the intellectual and social life at Brown was great fun to read. Of course, he is an example of the independent spirit among Brown students that leaves indelible footprints, and that always existed through Brown’s long history.

I graduated at an earlier time, and I think he misses the historical-intellectual context at Brown. At the point of connection between a Brown professor and a student, there was always the possibility that a spark would be ignited, carrying with it in that moment of enlightenment a spirit of both creativity and independence. The essence of the New Curriculum existed long before Ira Magaziner came along. That was my experience while chasing after a professor after his lecture wanting to discuss my question that burned within.

Tom Bale ’63
brownalumnimagazine.com comment


I was an incoming freshman in fall 1967. As a WBRU student news staffer, I reported on many of the events in Magaziner’s retrospective. To me, a couple of years less mature at the time than Magaziner, they seemed less “of-a-whole” and more a sequence of events unfolding at Brown, washing over the campus and over us as students. His retrospective reveals a more coordinated view of those events, reinforced, of course, by the subsequent success of the curriculum changes. Surely our observation of rapid-fire news from other campuses—not to mention the tumultuous national political events of 1968—contributed importantly to the willingness of Brown’s administrators, faculty, and students to recognize that change was in the air for all of us.

These are powerful memories for all of us. Thanks!

Ralph Begleiter ’71
brownalumnimagazine.com comment


As a woman who transferred to Brown in the early 1970s, I am grateful to everyone who worked so hard (and evidently partied hard too) to open doors to women in that era.

Kim Allsup ’76
brownalumnimagazine.com comment


As a historian of modern French civic culture, I view Magaziner’s activities through another lens. How quickly the focus—and agency—of student protest shifted in 1970, immediately after Magaziner’s years at Brown. What was primarily an institutional dynamic, however responsive to developments external to the University, turned less parochial and much more open to broader national, even international, contexts.

So when President Richard Nixon announced the military incursion into Cambodia in the spring of 1970, the response on the part of U.S. college students, especially at Kent State and Jackson State, was less measured and less manageable. Brown students were swept along in the ensuing shutdown of universities nearly everywhere, well beyond the carefully orchestrated reforms at one institution the previous spring. The antiwar movement and its protest of colonialist power worldwide, including the May 1968 events in France, led Brown students to engage a larger, more ambitious, and yes, more intractable agenda.

What a difference a year makes in the global scheme of things. From that perspective, the Magaziner moment seems less imposing, perhaps because its challenges were less daunting. The late President Ray Heffner must have anticipated just such a change. After all, a day after the curricular reforms were passed, he resigned as president of the University. How so? I venture it was because Brown was about to become a different place. And so it did.

Jim Allen ’73
brownalumnimagazine.com comment


I recently attended Brown’s 250th and my sixtieth class reunion. My son graduated with the class of 1980, and we walked through the Van Wickle Gates together. What a thrill that was!

So many memories return when going back to the Brown campus. My freshman year I lived off campus in the home of the secretary to President Barnaby Keeney (who smoked too much). I’ll never forget President Wriston speaking to our freshman class and stating, “Look to your left and to your right. One of those faces won’t be with you at graduation time.” He was right.

I’ll also never forget President Wriston’s Identification and Criticism of Ideas concept. It has stayed with me all my life. The new curriculum at Brown is an exciting one. However, I feel I experienced the concept way back in the 1950s. Being a person who seemed to always “march to a different drummer,” I have been rewarded by doing different things in different ways. I am so glad I had a liberal arts education at Brown.

I had an interesting experience while participating in the ceremonies during graduation. I got caught up with a bunch of chemistry PhDs (my worst subject). I could hear the intelligence popping up all over the place. What a great university!

Bruce Mansfield ’54
Wellesley, Mass.

What do you think?
See what other readers are saying about this article and add your voice. 
Related Issue
July/August 2014