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BUCC discusses divestment, endowment, school of International and Public Affairs at public meeting

Committee debates University handling of divestment protests

After considerable discussion and several rounds of voting, the BUCC ultimately voted to postpone their vote on whether to recommend the University to drop charges until next week.
After considerable discussion and several rounds of voting, the BUCC ultimately voted to postpone their vote on whether to recommend the University to drop charges until next week.

On April 16, the Brown Community Council convened at Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center to discuss University topics including the proposal for a School of International and Public Affairs and the management of Brown’s endowment. President Christina Paxson P’19 PMD’20 was traveling, but attended the meeting via Zoom, and Provost Francis J. Doyle III chaired the meeting in her place. 

The room was full of student protestors, many wearing keffiyeh —  an Arab headscarf with  symbolic ties to Palestinian history —  and holding signs advocating for divestment. 

The conversation centered on the management of the University’s endowment. When Doyle raised the topic, five students stood up and held up large tapestries on either side of the room. One read “Labor From Palestine” and the other read “BUCC - Do Your Duty and Drop the Charges! Advance Divestment.” As they walked to the front of the room, many audience members broke into applause. 

Joshua Kennedy, deputy chief investment officer of the Brown Investment Office, presented an “introductory explanation of how the endowment works.”


Beginning with a brief overview of the structure and responsibilities of the Investment Office, Kennedy then explained that the purpose of investments is to protect the endowment from inflation. He added that Brown only draws out approximately 5% of its endowment annually. This money makes up around 15% of Brown’s annual budget and largely goes to financial aid, scholarships, fellowships and professorships. 

Only four percent of the University’s endowment is currently invested in common stocks — meaning that Brown directly invests in those companies, according to Kennedy. The list of these companies is publicly available. 

The other 96 percent is invested in portfolios managed by outside investors. The endowment is invested in 383 funds, but Kennedy was not able to share more information on those funds, explaining the Office is “bound to … confidentiality by legal contracts with our managers.”

Kennedy’s conversation continued to explain the University’s relationship to divestment, a topic of debate in several pro-Palestinian student demonstrations this school year. Previously, Kennedy said, the University has  divested from Tobacco and Sudan. In addition, Brown has sold most of its fossil fuel investments — with only 0.1% of its endowment currently invested in the industry. 

After the presentation, the conversation was opened up to BUCC members. Aiyah Josiah-Faeduwor ’13, a member of the council, began the open forum with a prepared statement.

“In the two years thus far that I’ve served on the BUCC, as a body, we have never, not once, collectively made a single recommendation to any decision-making body within the institution,” he read. “We have in essence and reality been a performative body, a tokenized body, perpetuating that illusion of accountability and representation of the ‘community.’” 

Josiah-Faeduwor continued his speech, condemning the response of the administration in regards to calls for divestment, and praising the work of student activists. He then called the BUCC to action, recommending they hold a vote for Paxson to “drop the charges against our students.” 

Another BUCC member read a prepared statement, beginning with excerpts from the Slavery and Justice Report, calling on administrators to uphold Brown’s commitment to historical responsibility. 

“I would like to believe that as an institution, we truly are committed to promoting a more just, peaceful and secure world for all, not just through our academic and research endeavors, but more importantly, through our civic actions,” the speaker said, echoing calls for Paxson to hear student activists on divestment proposals.

Following these statements, BUCC Parliamentarian Stephanie Zielinski opened community consideration to the motion that the BUCC recommend to Paxson that the University drop the charges against the 41 students arrested during the second University Hall sit-in. 


Following support from some BUCC members to the motion, Zielinski then asked Paxson if she wanted to comment, to which she replied, “No, actually. I’m good on this one.”

Zielinski then proposed that the BUCC close on this motion by voting. The motion would require a two-thirds majority to pass. 

After some discussion of the best method of voting, Doyle suggested having “a special meeting next week” so that Paxson could attend in person. “This deserves more attention than a rushed end to a meeting,” he said. 

After considerable discussion and several rounds of voting, the BUCC ultimately voted to postpone the vote until next week. Several members worried that they were not prepared to vote on such complicated issues, and lacked the necessary information. 

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“I totally appreciate and empathize that students will have to wait another week to know what the recommendation of this body is, and I empathize with that and I’m sorry about that, but I would like another week for us to really be able to be deliberative and thoughtful,” Mary Jo Callan, vice president for community engagement and executive director of the Swearer Center, said. 

The BUCC will convene next week to vote on the two motions. 

In addition to divestment, the meeting also saw discussion on the possibility of elevating the Watson Institute to a school. The proposal has formally been in the works since 2015. In recent years, the University has been presenting the proposal to various committees, leading task forces and consulting faculty. 

Most recently, faculty voted on the proposal, with 72% in favor, The Herald previously reported

However, Neil Safier, associate professor of History and the director of the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies of the Watson Institute for International Affairs “cautioned (Doyle) against saying that there was overwhelming support,” and specified that he felt that most of the support came from within the Watson Institute, and faculty in other departments were more wary of the school. 

In response, Doyle pointed out that the University’s peer institutions all offer Masters of Public Affairs through a school, and Brown alone offers this degree through an institute. The University hopes that elevating the Watson Institute to a school will “enhance Brown’s reputation and visibility in a critically important area,” according to Doyle’s slideshow. 

Doyle held that the elevation of the Watson Institute would not impact the attention or funding given to other departments. 

The University’s next steps are to have the school approved by the Corporation, beginning the search for a dean and fundraising.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that BUCC Secretary Sydney Menzin opened community consideration to BUCC's recommendation regarding the 41 arrested students during a University Hall sit-in. The BUCC member who did so was Parliamentarian Stephanie Zielinski. The Herald regrets the error.

Kate Butts

Kate Butts is a Senior Staff Writer covering University Hall. Outside of the Herald, she loves running, board games and Trader Joe's snacks.


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