Graduate Students

Brown U. Already Pays Its 'Fair Share,' Its President Says as City Asks for More

June 04, 2009

Brown University already pays its “fair share” for the services it receives from the City of Providence, the institution’s president, Ruth J. Simmons, said this week in a letter outlining her opposition to bills in the Rhode Island legislature that could allow local governments to impose new taxes on private universities and other nonprofit organizations.

The city faces a shortfall of nearly $50-million in its next budget year, according to The Providence Journal, and its mayor, David N. Cicilline, has asked the General Assembly to allow him to look for more help from private colleges and other nonprofit organizations in closing the gap. One of two measures introduced on his behalf would allow local governments to assess a fee of $150 per semester for each full-time student from out of state. The other would allow cities to collect from nonprofit entities up to 25 percent of what the taxes would be on their tax-exempt properties.

Ms. Simmons, in her letter yesterday to Brown students, alumni, and faculty and staff members, said university officials understood “the city’s need to make tough decisions to balance its budget.” But the university has also had to make sacrifices and difficult choices, she said, including budget reductions, layoffs, and salary and hiring freezes. Brown’s leaders “would be loath to ask the university community to shoulder even greater sacrifices,” she wrote, “particularly not our students and their families, who work hard to plan and save for higher education.”

She also criticized the legislation as undermining a 2003 agreement with the city under which Brown will pay nearly $50-million to Providence over 20 years. She noted that Brown has its own police force and pays the city when it uses city officers for extra security at events like commencements. And she countered the mayor’s argument that nonprofit groups own 40 percent of assessed real-estate value in Providence but contribute less than 1 percent of the city’s budget. Colleges and universities account for only 9.6 percent of such property, Ms. Simmons pointed out, with the rest held by city, state, and federal governments, and churches, hospitals, museums, and other nonprofit organizations. —Charles Huckabee