Brown distinguishes itself from its peer institutions through its "New Curriculum." Instituted in 1969, it allows students to more flexibly determine their own educational paths by eliminating distribution requirements and mandatory grading (allowing all courses to be taken on a "satisfactory/no credit" basis).
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 James Stiles, were working toward a similar end. On March 3, 1764, a charter was filed to create Rhode Island College in Warren, Rhode Island, reflecting the work of both Stiles and Manning. The charter had more than 60 signatories, including John and Nicholas Brown of the Brown family, who would give the College its present day name. James Manning, the minister sent to Rhode Island by the Baptists, was sworn in as the College's first president in 1765.
Rhode Island College 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 in honor of John's nephew, Nicholas Brown, Jr, who was a member of the class of 1786 and contributed $5000 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 and John Nicholas Brown.
The Brown family was involved in various business ventures in Rhode Island, including slavery, which has led to some discussion of the role of slavery in Brown's legacy in recent years. In recognition of this history, the university has recently established a special Committee on Slavery and Justice (Brown News Service 2001).
Brown began to admit women when it established a Women's College in 1891, which was later named Pembroke College. Brown merged with Pembroke in 1971 and became coeducational.
Brown adopted the New Curriculum in 1969, marking a major change in the University's institutional history. The curriculum was the result of a paper written by Ira Magaziner and Elliot Maxwell, "Draft of a Working Paper for Education at Brown University." The paper came out of a year-long Group Independent Studies 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 was based on the principle that "the individual who is being educated is the center of the educational process." 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 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 which would introduce the important modes of inquiry used in different disciplines.
The New Curriculum that came out of the working paper was significantly different from the paper itself. Its key features were
Modes of Thought courses aimed at first-year students
Interdisciplinary University courses
Students could elect to take any course Satisfactory/No Credit
Distribution requirements were dropped
The University simplified grades to ABC/No Credit, eliminating pluses, minuses and D's. Furthermore, "No Credit" would not appear on external transcripts.
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.
In recent years the University has broadened and expanded its curricular offerings as part of the "Academic Enrichment Plan." The number of faculty has been greatly expanded. Seminars aimed at freshmen have begun to be offered widely by many departments.
The University's medical program started in 1811. In 1984, the Brown endorsed an eight-year medical program called the Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME). The majority of openings for the first-year medical school class are reserved for PLME students. Each year, approximately 60 students matriculate into the PLME out of an applicant pool of about 1,600. Brown offers a joint program with Dartmouth Medical School called the Brown-Dartmouth Program. Approximately 15 students at Dartmouth Medical School enroll in this program annually. They spend the first two basic medical science years at Dartmouth and the next two years in clinical education at Brown, where they receive their M.D degree.