Brown University



The earliest American college to abandon religious affiliation as a requirement for admission. Founded in 1764 as the College of Rhode Island, the school adopted the name of Brown in 1804, in recognition of a large gift by Nicholas Brown, an alumnus and son of one of the school’s founders.
From its beginnings, Brown has been one of the most liberal institutions in the United States. Like other early American colleges, Brown was founded as a training school for ministers—a Baptist answer to Congregationalist Harvard and Yale, Presbyterian Princeton and Anglican (later Episcopalian) Kings College (later Columbia). Unlike those other colleges, however, Brown’s original charter banned “religious tests” for entry into the college and declared “that the Sectarian differences of opinions shall not make any Part of the Public and Classical Instruction.”
In 1827, FRANCIS WAYLAND became Brown’s fourth president and, over the next 28 years, introduced innovations that revolutionized American college education by modifying curricula to serve “the wants of the whole community.” Until then, major colleges in the United States and Europe had only prepared men for the “learned professions”—law, medicine, divinity and teaching. All students studied the same curriculum—the classics, mathematics and natural and moral philosophy—with each student studying four years of each subject and no others. Wayland expanded the curriculum to embrace a wide variety of other courses of varying lengths, including chemistry, physics, geology, English language and rhetoric, political economy, history, law, pedagogy, agriculture and the arts. Moreover, the curriculum was reorganized so that “in so far as it is practicable, every student might study what he chose, all that he chose and nothing but what he chose.” Instead of the standard, general bachelor’s degree, Brown now offered the first bachelor’s degrees in specific subjects.
Brown University

Brown University, in 1770, when it was still called the College of Rhode Island and had just moved to Providence from Warren, where it had been founded six years earlier. It was renamed in 1804 in honor of a benefactor, alumnus Nicholas Brown. (Library of Congress)
As Brown expanded its campus in the last half of the 19th century and added intercollegiate sports, it joined seven other northeastern colleges to form the “IVY LEAGUE” intercollegiate sports group. In 1891, Brown established Pembroke College as a coordinate undergraduate college for women, but the two merged into a single university in 1971.
As the Vietnam War provoked student uprisings on college campuses across the United States in the late 1960s, Brown joined other colleges in abandoning its role as in loco parentis and turned responsibility for student conduct and curriculum planning to the students themselves. The result was the so-called New Curriculum, which eliminated traditional distribution and course requirements and majors, as well as traditional grading. At the time, the number of courses a student had to pass to receive a degree was reduced from 36 to 26, all of which could be taken on a pass-fail basis. Brown was not unique in making such changes, but while most other private colleges eventually restored some semblance of traditional course distribution and grading requirements, Brown held relatively firm to its student-centered policies. Even in 2000, the university required only that students pass 30 of 32 courses to graduate (including 8 to 21 courses in the major), and there were no distribution requirements or specific required courses.

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