In the 2023 fiscal year, Brown’s endowment netted a 2.7% return on investments, increasing its value to $6.6 billion as of June 30 after accounting for gifts and the endowment's contribution to the operating budget.
In this episode of the Bruno Brief, we learn more about the details of how Brown’s endowment works and fill you in on other important stories from the week.
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Welcome back to the Bruno Brief, I’m Finn Kirkpatrick, podcast and Arts & Culture editor. On this week’s episode, we spoke with University News editors Charlie Clynes and Neil Mehta, about their reporting on how Brown’s endowment has grown, how it works and community members’ responses to the University’s investments.
Hi, I’m Charlie, I’m a University News editor for The Herald, and I cover University Hall.
I'm Neil Mehta, and I cover diversity, equity and inclusion for The Herald
The University’s endowment, worth $6.6 billion as of June 30th, is an invested fund of donations. The endowment is made up of over 3,000 different accounts of funds, which are usually allocated for set purposes. In addition, a portion of the endowment goes towards the University’s annual operating budget and is managed by the Investment Office, consisting of 21 fellows and trustees of the Corporation. Campus groups, students and faculty have criticized the University for investing the endowment in companies with ties to Israel.
So Charlie and Neil, tell me a little about this story. Why did you decide to report on this topic?
So the endowment is really important to the University's operations, right? It pays for a lot. Because of that, it's part of a lot of conversations about what the University should invest in and what its priorities are, and has been for a long time.
So Charlie and I noticed that in a lot of conversations in the University about the endowment, there were some misconceptions about what it was and what it was for. For example, we noticed a common misconception that the endowment is the University's yearly operating budget. So we wanted to clear up some of those fundamentals and provide a resource for people who are curious to get a little bit more background information on what the endowment is before they dive into our reporting about it.
And how is the endowment different from the University’s budget?
An endowment is a fund that's continually invested by a university to support its yearly expenditures. So, for example, the University chooses to pull 4.5 to 5.5% of its endowment to support the yearly budget. But only that percentage is going toward the budget. This year, that made up about 17% of the budget. And again, it was about 5% of the endowment adjusted over the last 12 quarters. So while the endowment is used to draw funds and raise funds for the University's operating expenses, it's not actually a budget.
How have campus community members criticized the University’s investments?
Yeah, so a big takeaway from our coverage of the endowment now and in general is that it's big, and it's relevant to campus politics. Activists who called on Brown to divest from coal and fossil fuels worked for years and years through rallies and protests and open letters. Not every school has a multibillion-dollar endowment — that makes Brown unique. And that size also makes it a really important site for campus activism.
More recently, Students for Justice in Palestine has requested that Brown divest from companies affiliated with the Israeli government, or the Israeli Defense Force. And Brown so far has not.
In 2021, Paxson responded to those demands from SJP and said in a letter to the community that the endowment should “not be used as an instrument to take sides on contested geopolitical issues over which thoughtful and intelligent members of the Brown community vehemently disagree.”
Charlie and Neil, thanks so much for coming in.
Thanks so much for having me on.
Thanks for having me.
Now, a recap of other important stories happening this week. As a content warning, this first story contains references to violence and death.
Following ongoing violence in Israel and Gaza, Brown student organizations have released statements condemning what they identify as the root cause of the violence. Brown Students for Israel has criticized pro-Palestine groups on campus for their characterization of the recent violence. Meanwhile, groups including Students for Justice in Palestine and the newly formed Talk for Tomorrow have condemned what they say is a one-sided response from the University.
On Wednesday evening, Brown community members gathered on the Main Green as part of a candlelight vigil for Palestinian and Israeli deaths, reciting Jewish and Muslim players to mourn the victims of the recent escalation of violence in Israel and Gaza.
In other news, following the Supreme Court’s June ruling striking down affirmative action, the University is looking towards applicant recruitment as a means of bolstering student body diversity. According to Brown’s web page detailing its response to the ruling, the Office of Undergraduate Admission aims to recruit a diverse applicant pool via “pathway programs, targeted outreach and pipeline programs.”
Lastly, on Monday, the Brown Lecture Board hosted actor and comedian Rainn Wilson in an event including a moderated conversation and student Q&A session. Best known for his role as Dwight Schrute on “The Office,” Wilson spoke on topics ranging from his experiences on the show to modern spirituality, poking fun at Brown and making witty remarks along the way. When asked about The Herald, Wilson remarked that BDH “sounds like an underwear brand.”
Thanks again for tuning into the sixth episode of this season of the Bruno Brief. This episode was produced by me, Finn Kirkpatrick, and Jacob Smollen, edited by Christine Okulo, Annabelle Kim and Jaanu Ramesh and scripted by Amanda Sun and Grace Hu. If you like what you hear, subscribe to The Bruno Brief wherever you get your podcasts and leave a review. Thanks for listening. We'll see you next week.
Denzel Sprak: https://app.sessions.blue/browse/track/203142
Correction: A previous version of this podcast made an inaccurate comparison of the endowment to a "savings account" and incorrectly referred to returns on the endowment's invested funds as the overall growth of the endowment. The Herald regrets the error.