Brown's wise engineering decision

Apr 12, 2013

Is there really any serious opposition to Brown University’s decision to expand its engineering school on College Hill rather than in the old Jewelry District?

The Providence Journal’s story and headline on Thursday had a curious headline and lede, focusing on the location of  the engineering school rather than the impressive news that our state’s lone Ivy League college is getting into technology education in a major way.

In the page one news story, reporter Paul Grimaldi writes that, ``The decision puts to rest speculation the university would relocate its engineering program to the Jewelry District where it moved the Warren Alpert Medical School in 2011. Moving the engineering program to west side of the Providence River was seen by city and state leaders as a way to help spur development in the Route 195 corridor land.’’

The city and state leaders who promoted this are never named. Apparently Grimaldi, a fine business reporter, couldn’t find anybody to criticize the engineering  location on the record, so he simply used the old journalistic cliché of ``puts to rest speculation.’’

One could think a reporter could find one city/state political or business leader to question this move by Brown, if indeed there is anyone willing to make such a statement.

What’s lost here is the extraordinary decision by Brown and some generous alums to raise $160 million to expand the engineering school. Unlike the medical school, the engineering program comprises both graduate and undergraduates; medical school is, of course, restricted to graduate students.

Why would Brown force engineering students to attend a morning engineering class in the Jewelry District, then have to hike back up College Hill in the afternoon to take classes in other subjects?

And who cares precisely where in Providence such a great potential fulcrum for our state’s 21st century economy is built? Brown’s College Hill campus is only about a long Tiger Woods driver from the Jewelry District.

Kendall Square in Cambridge is one of the nation’s, and maybe the world’s, foremost innovation districts. It is wedged between the campuses of MIT and Harvard, but is not on the historic campus of either institution.

Brown has already put its medical school in the Jewelry District, where it made a lot of sense given the proximity to the state’s most important medical and hospital complex a few football fields away at the Rhode Island Hospital and Woman & Infants facilities.

What the Jewelry District arguably needs now is more investment from the private sector, which would help generate sorely needed tax dollars for the city and jobs.

In the meantime, all Rhode Islanders who support development of 21st century jobs in technology-related fields should applaud Brown’s engineering decision. Now if we can only get the graduates to remain in Rhode Island….