Does Providence College pay enough to Providence?
[David Cicilline with former PC President Philip Smith]
Public discussion about Providence Mayor Angel Taveras’ attempts to get larger voluntary contributions from tax-exempt educational institutions have focused on Brown University, and to a lesser extent, Johnson & Wales. But what about Providence College — which encourages its students to pursue public service and whose alums populate the General Assembly?
The quality of PC’s academic program can be seen in how the college has produced an arrayof political people, from J.B. Poersch, a former aide to Senator Jack Reed, to Devin Driscoll, currently heading up President Obama’s re-election campaign in Rhode Island. Here’s a rundown on some other accomplished alumni from the last decade:
— Jake Bissaillon. chief of staff to the Providence City Council’
— Michael Raia, Taveras’ communications director;
— Emily Ann Patt, an international financial economist at the State Department;
— Shaun Adamec, VP of communications at City Year, and a former press secretary for Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley;
— Tom Giordano, manging director of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s re-election campaign;
— Ben Downing, a former US House staffer and current state senator in Massachusetts.
Going back further, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed is a PC alum and House Speaker Gordon Fox studied at PC before graduating from Rhode Island College. By my count, seven other senators, and nine other reps have either studied at PC or graduated from the college.
Providence College was part of the 2003 memorandum of understanding brokered by former Mayor David Cicilline that included other local universities, including Brown. Daniel P. Egan, president of the Association of Independent Colleges & Universities of Rhode Island — which represents Brown, PC, J&W, and RISD, says PC has contributed more than $2.5 million in voluntary payments to Providence since then.
Considering its production of politicians and political staffers as part of a public service mission, does PC bear a responsibility to up its voluntary payments to Providence?
Egan, who fielded a request for comment, says PC’s current $264,000 level of annual payment is appropriate. “We’re proud of that ’03 memorandum,” he says. “We thought that was setting the mark.”
Egan notes the “transactional” quality of Brown and J&W’s interest in land made available by the relocation of I-195. He points to how the economy was a lot better in 2003. And Egan also contends — in a point that Taveras has echoed — that universities shouldn’t be alone among non-profits in helping Providence.
It could be argued, too, that PC’s expansion, in contrast to Brown, J&W, and RISD, has focused on its existing footprint. And that Friars’ basketball pumps more money into downtown Providence with the throngs who repeatedly flock to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center during hoop season.
Still, that’s got to be cold comfort as Providence’s tries to dig out from a $22.5 million deficit.
To put a finer point on it: If PC paid taxes on 10 percent of the assessed value of its property, the college’s annual payments would roughly quadruple, to a little more than $1 million a year.
[Photo: The Cowl]