Brown University has a $2.5 billion endowment, but relative to their peer schools they consider themselves impoverished.
The City of Providence has $2.3 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. And, according to Mayor Taveras, truly is impoverished.
The university has 8,454 students, 4,525 faculty, executives, clerical and maintenance employees and annual budget of $834 million.
The City has an annual budget of approximately $614 million and serves a population of 173,618 residents, 38,200 of them living below the poverty level.
Brown also owns property assessed at $1,042,111,400, all of which is currently tax-exempt. The City, meanwhile, is trying to figure out how to avoid running out of cash by June.
So, at a point when the City and Brown should be constructively looking for ways to work together to bridge the gaps that threaten the City’s solvency, Mayor Angel Taveras and President Ruth Simmons were barely talking to each other. How did things deteriorate so badly and is there a way to mend the widening split in Providence between town and gown?
To get a sense of how bad things have gotten, here’s a description, as reported to us, of what took place at last month’s Providence Foundation annual meeting. As Providence firemen picketed outside to protest Brown’s decision to only contribute half of what the mayor thought he had been promised, a crowd of about 75 people inside awaited speeches from Governor Chafee, Mayor Taveras and President Simmons.
The first two went pretty much as expected. The governor was upbeat about the state’s future and hoped that Brown and the City would come to a fair agreement over payment in lieu of taxes. The mayor was similarly upbeat, acknowledging a baby gift he had received from the Brown president and humorously adding that he hoped it symbolized a new beginning in his relations with Brown. Then President Simmons stepped up and, according to several attendees of the meeting, launched into rather aggressive indictment of the City and its lack of appreciation ‘for all Brown does for the City.’
“Most of us in the audience were squirming in our seats, surprised that all the dirty linen was on display in what was supposed to be an upbeat look at the good things happening in our city right now,” reported one of the attendees. The head of the Brown Engineering School went on next, ready to share the investment the university was making in the Knowledge District, but by then the mayor and his entourage had already left.
A few days later, City Councilman Sam Zurier tried a back door approach to bring the two parties together and was told neither party wanted to make the first call. Fortunately, the governor seems to have gained some traction in getting the two parties to reopen the dialogue. Councilman Zurier is now “cautiously optimistic” that Brown and the City can still find