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Economics Department receives $25 million donation

Orlando Bravo ’92 donation to fund new research center, increase faculty positions

By and
Senior Staff Writer and Staff Writer
Thursday, April 25, 2019

The department aims to add eight to 10 new faculty members, including two endowed chairs, which should help to increase faculty interaction with undergraduates.

The Department of Economics is receiving a $25 million donation from Orlando Bravo ’92, according to a University press release.

Of this total, $15 million will be allotted to founding the Orlando Bravo Center for Economics Research, and the remaining $10 million will be used to attract eight to 10 new faculty — including two endowed chairs.

The “inspired donation” will help strengthen the department’s reputation and quality of work, said President Christina Paxson P’19.

“The intent (of the Bravo Center) is to really amplify the amount and quality of research that (is) coming out of the Brown Economics Department,” Paxson said.

With the new Center, the faculty’s research capabilities will be enhanced, particularly in obtaining and analyzing data, said Chair of the Department of Economics Anna Aizer, adding that there has recently been a significant increase in the type of data available as well as methods to analyze the data.

The data and data-mining methods address issues including “inequities in health care, education and earning potential,” according to the press release.

“This gift will really help us … develop some of these data sets and employ some of these methods to help us answer some of the most important policy questions,” she said.

Bravo named research as one of the primary reasons he made the donation. “The (economics) department at Brown right now is at the forefront of some incredible research around areas that are very important to me, like income inequality and social mobility,” he said. “I come from … Puerto Rico where there wasn’t that much opportunity.”

Bravo concentrated in economics and political science at the University and is the co-founder and managing partner of Thoma Bravo, a private equity firm, according to the press release.

Faculty interviewed by The Herald were also enthusiastic about the portion of the gift that will go toward faculty retention. David Weil, professor of economics and former chair of the department, noted that adding more faculty will help increase the size of the department, a problem the University has long struggled with. “We are actually small by the standards of top research departments,” Weil said, adding that other schools are generally bigger and have business, public policy or law schools, which increase the number of economists. “We basically have almost all of our economists sitting here” in Robinson Hall, he said.

The plan to boost the number of faculty in the department by eight to 10 “is quite a lot,” Aizer said. In a follow-up email to The Herald, Aizer wrote that this would also help move the University’s number of endowed chairs closer to those of other Ivy League schools.

The additional faculty will also allow the department to offer more courses. “This year our enrollments are about 4,500,” Aizer said. “We have something like 32 faculty.” Economics was the second largest concentration in 2018, according to the Office of Institutional Research.

The gift is also expected to increase both the size of the graduate student population and the number of research assistants hired, Aizer said.

The Herald’s spring 2019 poll found that students concentrating in either Economics or Business, Entrepreneurship and Organizations interact less frequently with faculty than students in other concentrations. Of the students polled, 27.8 percent of concentrators in Economics or BEO reported that they interact with faculty at least a few times per week, compared to 40.4 percent of non-business concentrators. Aizer cited the shortage of department faculty as a potential reason for less frequent student-faculty interactions.

“This is the kind of gift that can be transformational for the department, and I expect will be,” Paxson said.

“The department is already one of the top departments in the country,” Bravo said. “I hope that this strengthens it. I hope that it provides more room for the faculty to both grow and … invest more in its research capabilities. And through all that, I also hope it provides an even more meaningful experience for Brown students.”

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