Simon ’16: Pimp my university

Opinions Editor
Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Like too many Brown students, I find myself critical of President Christina Paxson P’19 more for sport than because I actually have any reason to be. If I’m being honest, I hardly know anything about her save that she went to Swarthmore College, prefers vegetables to pepperonis on her pizza and now lives rent-free in a gated Georgian-style compound on Power Street.

But you see, no disposition on campus is more in vogue than publicly rebuking “the man.” Case in point: An embarrassing number of students demanded a presidential explanation last semester after Gawker published a leaked email correspondence among Paxson, Brown’s Senior Advisor for Leadership Philanthropy Ronald Margolin and Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton, who generously cut a $1 million check to Brown with more strings attached than the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Anyone with a pulse can trace the probable outcome of this “philanthropy” — a prospective student connected to Lynton gets accepted to Brown!

But before this op-ed begins to sound like a steaming indictment, let it now and forever be known that I was never more enthralled with my president than after reading these emails. My only request is that the privileged be privileged even more. And if you’re on financial aid, like me, you should be asking the same.

On Feb. 8, 2015, notably my birthday, Paxson emailed the entire student body an encyclopedia-sized summary of a recent Corporation meeting. In it, she wrote that, after much discussion, “the (University Resources Committee) recommended a 4.4 percent increase in tuition and fees, bringing total undergraduate charges for (the 2015-16) year to $62,046.” (I should note that the median household income in the United States in 2013 was $51,939).

Though it would be my hubris to suggest my birthday and this thermonuclear bomb of an email were anything but coincidental, a part of my ego purrs at the notion that Paxson personally gifted me a birthday present that afternoon when she also wrote that there would be an “8 percent increase in next year’s financial aid.” I may not be so hot at math, but I’m proficient enough in the discipline to know an 8 percent increase in my $46,000 financial aid package is an angel’s kiss more than a 4.4 percent increase in $59,316 of tuition.

All things considered, I am grateful that $12,046 is all I owe, but I am still of the creed that it’s $12,046 more than I am interested in paying. So in deference to the working class community at Brown, I’ve formulated a solution to defray these costs under perhaps the most visionary proposal yet. You’ve heard of Brown’s initiative “Building on Distinction,” but please, leave room in the warm cockles of your heart for its nascent twin, “Building on Bribery.” (I waffled between “bribery” and “precedent.”)

Before I expand on that, though, let’s survey some preliminary facts and figures: 690, or 44 percent, of the 1,567 students of the Class of 2018 are on financial aid. Since the average need-based award is $44,268, it follows that the tuition still owed by the average need-based aid recipient is $17,778, or the difference between $62,046 and $44,268. Multiply that difference by the 690 students and we get a total of $12,266,820.

Still with me?

Basically, $12.3 million per year is all that’s needed to send every student on financial aid to Brown for free. Just $12.3 million! That’s one Greenwich Village townhouse. Or two winter coats from Moncler’s Himalayan Hoodies collection!

The genius behind “Building on Bribery” is that it increases the class size by just a mere 12 students and then calls for those 12 spots to be sold for no less than $1 million a pop, a drop in the bucket for many. Michael Lynton would say so. And $1 million is already a whole third of his annual salary! Just think of the whales gaming it up on Wall Street! $1 million to them is akin to a drunken bet on a Foxwoods’ blackjack table.

Now, I completely understand any reservations you may have with selling admission into Brown. Actually I don’t.

If selling just 12 auxiliary admission slots would mean a tuition-free school year for every student on financial aid, then I think I speak for all of my blue-collar-bred compatriots when I say I’d happily welcome a gaggle of spoon-fed aristocrats to hopscotch around on my campus. I would even go so far as to shake the manicured hands of each of these unsung heroes and thank them obsequiously.

Isn’t it blaringly obvious? They are the unexploited vehicles for our financial salvation!

Let’s not forget that we, the poor elite, are the indirect beneficiaries of bribery, hush money and the die-hard, masturbatory will of the Ivy League to jack up endowment numbers to foie gras proportions. If we want to afford Brown, we need to continue to dance for our benefactors with a smile on our faces until the cows come home for milking. And though I’ve never milked a cow, find me an udder stuffed with diamonds and you can rest assured I’d be great at it.

On another note, I was curious as to how much a parent would need to donate to get their kid into Brown assuming their kid is 100 percent unqualified, so I emailed Margolin and asked, “How much (would) a parent need to donate to get their kid into Brown assuming their kid is 100% unqualified?” (I’ve never been one for subtlety.) I received a response instead from an informative Cass Cliatt, vice president of communications, who had some clarifying words for me: “Brown’s admission process is absolutely separate from any development activity.”

But then I was curious as to what “development activity” actually meant. “Development” as in Brown buildings like the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, the Rockefeller Library and the Sidney Frank Hall for Life Sciences? Or “development” as in buildings on campus named after immensely wealthy benefactors of the University, like the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, the Rockefeller Library and the Sidney Frank Hall for Life Sciences?

I guess the world will never know.

Chad Simon ’16 is free for brunch this Saturday and can be reached for appointment at

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  1. Your math for determining how much money the university would need to fully fund all students on financial aid is off. Your analysis shows the cost of funding one class year, but if you intend to continue to fund that class year throughout their Brown education, and fully fund future class years, it will cost 4x that amount after 4 years (plus any future tuition raises).

  2. I love reading this author. It’s like watching someone masturbate.


  4. Keep it up, Chad!

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