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Brown University president urges ‘yes’ vote on Question 1, to provide $100m to URI

“The future of our state depends on leaders working together collaboratively for the collective good of all Rhode Islanders,” Christina H. Paxson writes

A seal on the campus of the University of Rhode Island, in South Kingstown, R.I., Wednesday, July 1, 2020.Steven Senne/Associated Press

From manufacturing the next generation of defense-related submarines and advancing research on underwater drones and robots, to hosting the nation’s first offshore wind farm, the Ocean State is a dominant leader in the rapidly increasing blue economy. This ocean-driven economy, which supports the livelihood of countless Rhode Island families, contributes more than $5 billion to our state each year. By 2030, that figure is projected to grow to $10 billion.

Rhode Island has a singular opportunity on Nov. 8 to invest wisely in that future. Voting “Yes” on Question 1 will provide a $100 million investment in the University of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay Campus, home of the world-renowned Graduate School of Oceanography. Offering master’s and doctoral degrees in oceanography and a Blue MBA, all of which provide the next generation of leaders with the knowledge and skills needed to develop business models that ensure an environmentally sustainable world for future generations, URI is at the forefront of ocean science.


Long before I came to Rhode Island in 2012 to serve as president of Brown University, I knew of the high-quality research, exploration and teaching taking place at URI’s Narragansett Bay Campus. The faculty and students at URI are among the best in the world. In Fiscal Year 2021, researchers and faculty at the Bay Campus attracted $50 million in research funding; and their work is leading the nation and the world in understanding and adapting to climate change, and uncovering and understanding the complex systems that lie beneath the ocean’s surface. My faculty colleagues at the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society and Brown’s School of Engineering who collaborate with them on many research projects and grants speak enthusiastically about the work that takes place on the Bay Campus and its importance for Rhode Island and beyond.

Unfortunately, the Bay State facilities do not meet this high standard of excellence. If you have not driven down South Ferry Road in Narragansett to see for yourself, I encourage you to do so before Election Day. Many of the campus buildings are more than half a century old and have not been meaningfully updated in that time. As my friend and colleague URI President Marc Parlange says, the science at the Bay Campus is cutting-edge, but the campus is not.


Together, we can change that by voting “Yes” on Question 1. The $100 million bond issue will build on recent investments in the campus infrastructure such as a new pier to host the National Science Foundation’s Narragansett Dawn research ship, which will arrive in Rhode Island next year thanks to the leadership of U.S. Sen. Jack Reed and others. Beyond that, new and desperately needed facilities to be funded by Question 1 include an ocean frontiers building and an ocean engineering complex. These investments will prepare the Bay Campus to deepen its impact on the local, national and global ocean economy for decades to come and benefit all Rhode Islanders in the process.

You may be wondering why, as the president of Brown, I would advocate for investment in another university. Brown is committed to advancing the importance of research in service to communities and society, and we want to see URI succeed. The future of our state depends on leaders working together collaboratively for the collective good of all Rhode Islanders. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to sustain and advance URI’s excellence in oceanographic research and teaching. And we owe it to ourselves to take meaningful action to improve our climate, create new jobs and train our children for the blue economy professions of the future. Please join me in voting “Yes” on Question 1.


Christina H. Paxson is an economist and public policy scholar who has served as Brown University’s 19th president since 2012.