The Exemption Exceptions

February 27, 2020

A centuries-old clause in Brown University’s charter exempts its professors from taxes. The University strictly forbids professors from taking this exemption as a condition of employment, and asks cities and towns to strike all mention of it from their ordinances. Nonetheless, some professors secretly take the exemption anyways, costing the City of Providence tens of thousands of dollars in tax revenue annually.

Above: personal property taxes withheld from the City of Providence on the basis of being a Brown professor, from 2010 to 2018.

Professorial Privileges

The Brown University charter exempts the University president, professors and their families from various civil obligations:

And furthermore, for the greater encouragement of this seminary of learning, and that the same may be amply endowed and enfranchised with the same privileges, dignities, and immunities enjoyed by the American colleges and European universities, we do grant, enact, ordain, and declare, and it is hereby granted, enacted, ordained, and declared, that the College estate, the estates, persons, and families of the President and Professors, for the time being, lying and being within the Colony, with the persons of the Tutors and students, during their residence at the College, shall be freed and exempted from all taxes, serving on juries, and menial services; and that the persons aforesaid shall be exempted from bearing arms, impresses, and military services, except in case of an invasion.

This exemption became the source of great animosity during the Civil War. An 1863 amendment limited the tax exemption to $10,000:

The Corporation of Brown University in Providence consenting hereto, that the estates, persons, and families of the President and Professors, for the time being, [of said University,] and of their successors in office, shall not hereafter be freed and exempted from taxes for more than the amount of ten thousand dollars for each of such officers, his estates, person, and family included.

Closing the Loophole

Animosity rose once again in 1949 when a North Kingstown tax assessor attempted to collect from Assistant Professor Karl S. Weimar. The ensuing legal battle was so damaging to the University that the Corporation elected to abandon the exemption for all future appointments:

In June 1965 the Corporation set about the elimination of the $10,000 exemption by voting that “as a condition of appointment all who are appointed President or full Professor effective July 1, 1966 or thereafter shall waive their right to Charter exemption from taxes on their property.” (Encyclopedia Brunoniana)

(Karl Weimar, fortunately, was appointed to the rank of full professor in 1965, and thus was eligible to continue to dodge taxes.)

Tenure-track professors are asked to agree to this exemption approximately one month prior before their tenure board hearing.

In 1995, the University formally requested that Rhode Island city and towns remove all mention of the exemption from their ordinances, noting:

Nine professors who were “grandfathered” in when Brown abandoned the measure still claim the exemption. The total statewide value of this exemption is $1,774.88 annually; none of the professors lives in any of the 37 towns to which Brown sent its request. The nine remaining exemptions will expire in coming years.

Eating the Forbidden Fruit

Brown University retains only one appointment from prior to 1966: Lecturer Emerita Babette Stewart, who joined the University in September of 1964. We should expect that at least eight of the remaining exemptions have “expired”.

However, Providence’s tax certifications for the years 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018 show that Providence residents have continued applied this exemption for tax relief ranging from $26,148 (in 2018) to $68,362 (in 2010)—indicating that no fewer than three to seven professors residing in Providence have taken the forbidden exemption in each year of the past decade. The faculty members are in violation of their employment contract.

The University might be unaware of these faculty, but why is Providence still permitting faculty to take this archaic exemption?

About the Author

The Inning Club is a network of students, staff, and alumni dedicated to that which otherwise evades notice. If you are interested learning more about forbidden privileges of Brown professors, please reach out to us at