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Mike Johnson '11: A plea for the removal of strings

I may be naive to hope that alumni still read the Brown Daily Herald in its online format on a regular basis, but perhaps members of the nefarious Corporation or our esteemed President still find time to peruse these pages, because as classes resume, exams loom and the leaves change color, quibbles over money begin once more.

Let me begin by saying I sincerely hope that the University and the members of Brown Dining Services can find common ground. Yes, I realize that the economy ravaged our endowment, but that does not mean we can take it out on those who work here.

On the other hand, while the University cannot visit its endowment woes on its employees, the fact remains that those who make more can afford to help those who make less acquire health insurance. The debate raises an interesting issue regarding how students see the University's allocation of funds, and how anyone can pursue multi-million-dollar renovation projects while charging its employees more for health insurance.

The University's hands are tied most of the time. Brown's budget isn't one big pot; rather, it's a small pot, with various soup bowls, salad bowls, chafing dishes, cookie sheets, deep fryers, and roasting pans scattered all around.  These miscellaneous kitchen apparatus are all earmarked for specific projects. Recent ones include the Sidney E. Frank Hall for Life Sciences, the Stephen Robert '62 Campus Center, the Creative Arts Center and the Jonathan Nelson '77 Aquatics Center. All of these projects have been either partly or entirely funded by donors.

But donations with strings attached aren't unique to building construction. Anyone who receives a "named scholarship" from the University is a recipient of such a donation. These are earmarked for financial aid purposes, based on certain criteria set down by the donor. These donations are actually a critical part of the University's "Boldly Brown" Campaign for Academic Enrichment. Yet even though the campaign reached its goal of $1.4 billion last May, it remains a critical part of helping Brown weather the economic crisis and continue to excel.

The Brown Annual Fund helps provide financial aid and research opportunities, and establishes professorships and classes. Gifts into this fund are deposited into the endowment. Every year, the principal remains in the endowment funds, while the investment returns on that principle are spent. In essence, the Annual Fund helps expand the academic opportunities at Brown. According to the Annual Fund's Web site, 120 gifts of just $25 dollars helped establish an UTRA. Fifty gifts of $50 helped a doctoral student stay on campus during the summer. These gifts, and other Annual Fund spending, helped fund education directly, helping to pay for tuition, health insurance and other costs.

As members of the Brown community, we should all be grateful for the gifts that generous donors provide us. But perhaps it isn't such a bad idea for donors to reanalyze the types of gifts to give in this economic climate. Which will help the University more: one fancy new building or financial aid for four hundred students?

Our endowment took a fairly substantial hit during the stock market crash last year; of the $2.78 billion dollars we started with, we emerged with just $2.04 billion, a loss of $740 million in market value. If $3,000 equals an UTRA, imagine what could have been accomplished with a direct infusion of $25 million dollars — an amount equal to the donation required for the Swim Center — into the Brown Annual Fund.

Granted, donating money into the Annual Fund or into the endowment directly doesn't get one immortalized in stone, or named on a plaque in a prominent place. But it does have the added benefit of helping students come here, to one of the best universities in the world, to learn.

The knowledge they gain while at Brown could one day cure deadly epidemics, or prevent them from even occurring: could put a man on Mars, or could help develop the next great novelist of our time. The University isn't suffering alone; students and faculty and their families struggle to pay the bills. A direct infusion of cash could revolutionize Brown's financial aid policy, making an Ivy League education an achievable and realistic dream for students of all economic backgrounds.

So while it's unlikely that our generous, esteemed and privileged alumni still peruse these pages, I humbly hope that just one will forego earmarking a building with his or her name attached, and help finance an education — help finance a future.

Mike Johnson '11 thinks the corporation should buy 2.038 billion scratch-off tickets: one has to hit it big.


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