Building on Distinction


The University community engaged in a process of intensive introspection and dialogue about what Brown is and what it should become.

In October 2013, the Corporation of Brown University unanimously adopted Building on Distinction: A New Plan for Brown, the culmination of a strategic planning process led by President Christina H. Paxson.

The development of the strategic plan was a yearlong process, which began with the appointment of more than 80 faculty, staff and students to six planning committees and a working group that solicited proposals for signature academic initiatives. The following committees worked through the fall semester of 2012:

  • Committee on Faculty Recruitment, Career Development and Retention
  • Committee on Financial Aid
  • Committee on Educational Innovation
  • Committee on Doctoral Education
  • Committee on Online Teaching and Learning
  • Committee on Reimagining the Brown Campus and Community
  • Working Group on Signature Academic Initiatives

The committees submitted to President Paxson and then-Provost Mark Schlissel reports that addressed strategic priorities in a number of areas for the plan: faculty recruitment, career development and retention; student support and financial aid; educational innovation; doctoral education; online teaching and learning; and the growth and development of the Brown campus and community. The process also included hundreds of students, faculty and staff who attended forums and meetings and completed surveys that yielded thousands of responses and comments to inform the plan.

The resulting plan presented to the Corporation by President Paxson during its first formal meeting of the 2013-14 academic year set out a strategic vision that emphasizes integrative scholarship and educational leadership, and enhances academic excellence, financial aid and the campus environment. The strategic plan established bold aspirations for Brown’s growth and progress for the next decade and beyond.

The University launched the plan in 2014, timed with the celebration of the 250th anniversary of Brown’s founding. 

Translating Vision to Action

In September 2015, President Paxson and Provost Richard M. Locke shared with the campus community the operational plan developed to realize the goals in Building on Distinction.

The Operational Plan for Building Brown’s Excellence was established to translate the broad, aspirational goals set out in Building on Distinction — in the areas of Integrative Scholarship, Educational Leadership, Academic Excellence and Campus Development — into concrete actions to be taken over the 10 years of the strategic plan. 

The operational plan also became the driver of a comprehensive fundraising campaign, BrownTogether, launched in October 2015 to raise investment and align resources for Brown’s priorities. The operational plan provided an overview of the areas in Building on Distinction where the University identified exceptional investment opportunities consistent with achieving Brown’s goals (while not encompassing everything that Brown intended to accomplish over the course of the 10-year strategic plan). 

In 2016, Brown launched Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion: An Action Plan for Brown University (known as the DIAP), which serves as a companion to Building on Distinction. Developed through a campus-wide process of engagement, feedback and revision, the detailed plan sets forth concrete, measurable action steps that formalize and expand upon the diversity and inclusion efforts articulated in the strategic plan.

The operational plan and the DIAP were conceived as evolving documents to allow Brown to be responsive to new ideas and opportunities as they emerge. After years of significant progress toward the University's original strategic goals and aspirations, an updated operational plan was released in September 2018.  

The Revised Operational Plan for Building Brown’s Excellence was developed from a highly collaborative and data-driven process to assess progress made toward the original goals; adjust the goals based on new strategic priorities and major updates within each area; and sharpen strategic and fundraising goals for the remainder of the BrownTogether fundraising campaign, projected to conclude in 2022. For the DIAP, annual reports measure progress and outline new initiatives for diversity and inclusion efforts.

Building on Distinction and the development of the operational plans and DIAP mark a high point at Brown as the University continues to seek ways of enriching the experience for all who work and live here. The plans are strengthening the University community and advancing Brown's mission of education, research and scholarship. 

Five Years of Building on Distinction

Brown is a community with the talent, leadership and diversity of thought and experience to sustain rigorous inquiry. We have the energy and drive to reach ever higher levels of excellence.