Brown at 250

By PHILIP EIL  |  March 6, 2014



Amount donated by businessman and 1786 alumnus Nicholas Brown, prompting the institution to change its name from the College of Rhode Island to Brown University, in 1804.


The number of “integrative scholarship” themes singled out for focused investment due to importance “to society, now and in the future,” in Brown’s 10-year strategic plan, “Building for Distinction: A New Plan for Brown,” released in October, 2013. Those themes are: “Cultivating Creative Expression,” “Understanding the Human Brain,” “Sustaining Life on Earth,” “Creating Peaceful, Just, and Prosperous Societies,” “Exploring Human Experience,” “Using Science and Technology to Improve Lives,” and “Deciphering Disease and Improving Population Health.”

The plan — viewable online at — also articulates Brown’s institutional mission: “[T]o serve the community, the nation, and the world by discovering, communicating, and preserving knowledge and understanding in a spirit of free inquiry, and by educating and preparing students to discharge the offices of life with usefulness and reputation. We do this through a partnership of students and teachers in a unified community known as a university-college.”


Percentage of 1024 student respondents to a Fall 2013 Brown Daily Herald poll who, when asked their thoughts of the strategic plan, chose, “I am aware of the plan but do not know enough to have an opinion.”


Percentage of respondents to that same Fall 2013 BDH poll who answered “once a day” to the question, “How often do you masturbate?”


The number of slaves (at least), according to historical evidence, who aided in the 1770 construction of University Hall — Brown’s signature building and a designated National Historic Landmark.

From 2006’s Report of the Brown University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice (also available online at

Slavery’s role in Brown’s early history is revealed more palpably in the College Edifice, what we today call University Hall, the oldest building on campus. As University curator Robert Emlen explained in a presentation sponsored by the steering committee, the construction of the building was financed through a public subscription campaign. With hard money in short supply, many donors paid their pledges in kind. Wood for the building, for example, appears to have been donated by Lopez and Rivera, one of the largest slave trading firms in Newport. A few donors honored pledges by providing the labor of their slaves for a set number of days. Emlen has found evidence of four enslaved men who labored on the building, including “Pero,” the bondsman of Henry Paget, “Mary Young’s Negro Man,” “Earle’s Negro,” and “Abraham,” apparently the slave of Martha Smith. Pero Paget, who was 62 years old at the time, is buried in Providence’s North Burial Ground; the circumstances and fate of the others remain unclear. A facsimile print of the construction records, including references to enslaved workers, has hung for years on the first floor of University Hall, more or less unnoticed. It is an apt metaphor for a history that has long hidden in plain sight.

This makes that whole University Hall-shaped-birthday-cake a little awkward, wouldn’t you say?

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