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Brown Receives $20mill for Science Facility

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Brown receives $20 million for science facility

The donation comes from 84-year-old liquor importer Sidney E. Frank who attended the university more than 65 years ago.

BY JENNIFER D. JORDAN

Journal Staff Writer - Tuesday, June 15, 2004

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Courtesy of Brown University

PROVIDENCE -- A grateful former student has donated $20 million to Brown University for a new cognitive and linguistic sciences building -- the largest gift for a building in the university's history.

The donation, from New York liquor importer Sidney E. Frank, 84, covers most of the five-story, 60,000-square-foot building's cost, estimated at $30 million. The building, which will bear Frank's name, replaces a gas station on Angell Street near Thayer Street and will anchor a landscaped pedestrian walkway designed to connect the area to Brown's historic campus center.

The project kicks off an ambitious $500-million 15-year plan to expand Brown's academic programs and facilities, said Richard Spies, executive vice president for planning. Construction of the new building is scheduled to start in 2006 and finish in 2008.

"We identified early on that the first major expansion of academic space would be here, partly because of its strategic location close to other academic buildings," Spies said.

The scope of the project has raised some concerns in the neighborhood, regarding the height of the building, the safety of the walkway, and the potential razing of a historic home near the site.

FRANK MADE his fortune importing Jagermeister and other speciality liquors. He also founded Grey Goose, a high-priced popular vodka based in France.

Frank paid $2.6 million five years ago to settle a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that alleged he and other management employees and customers sexually harassed more than 100 female employees in the 1990s. When the case closed in 1999, it was the largest monetary settlement for sexual harassment in the state of New York. Brown officials were aware of the lawsuit, but do not think it tarnishes the gift, said Ronald D. Vanden Dorpel, senior vice president for university advancement.

"None of that diminishes Mr. Frank's extraordinary act of philanthropy," said Vanden Dorpel, who said he traveled to New York last Friday with President Ruth J. Simmons and some members of the board of trustees to personally thank Frank. "Nothing diminishes Mr. Frank's enthusiasm for this project or the university's gratitude."

Frank was a member of the class of 1942, but did not graduate. However, he fondly recalls his year at Brown, saying it helped him succeed in business. He also credited a Brown classmate with introducing him to his wife, according to Diedre Maher, a spokeswoman for Sidney Frank Importing Co.

"He feels Brown helped him, both professionally and personally," Maher said.

SIDNEY E. FRANK HALL will also house administrative offices for the brain science program and an auditorium and classroom space on the first floor. Brown is already seeking other donations to cover the remaining $10-million cost for the building, said Provost Robert J. Zimmer. The greenway, which will link the north Pembroke campus to central Lincoln Field, will cost an additional $30 million, largely due to the high cost of underground utilities.

Because the cognitive and linguistic science department works closely with related fields -- including neuroscience -- locating it near the $95-million life sciences building now under construction on nearby Meeting Street was essential, said Sheila E. Blumstein, a linguistics professor who helped start the department in the 1980s. Two more faculty are joining the department and more lab spaces are urgently needed, Blumstein said.

The College Hill Neighborhood Association has some concerns about how intensely the area will be used once the gas station is gone and the new building is up, said Thomas P.I. Goddard, president. The Shell station lease is up in 2006 and the owner, Mario Coletta, has been informed of the university's plans, said Brown spokesman Mark Nickel.

Goddard said he also worried about students crossing Angell and Waterman streets once the pedestrian walkway is built.

"We are not convinced that these issues have been adequately addressed, but I wouldn't say we are opposed to the plan," Goddard said. "We will wait to see a more detailed plan as it emerges."

The Providence Preservation Society hopes a historic house located on the site is spared; Zimmer said the university is still undecided about whether it will raze the house or not.

FRANK'S GIFT raises ethical questions for Brown, particularly as colleges throughout the country wrestle with the legacy of generous gifts from disgraced business executives. Before their falls, former Tyco International CEO Dennis L. Kozlowski donated millions to Seton Hall University in New Jersey, and Kenneth Lay, former chairman of Enron Corporation, endowed an academic chair and professorships at two Texas colleges.

Universities, like nonprofit organizations and charities, have an obligation to research donors and make sure the money is used for a good purpose, as Brown apparently has done, said W. Michael Hoffman, executive director of the Center for Business Ethics at Bentley College in Waltham, Mass.

"If the money will be used for something good and the donor has the right to give the money, then I think the recipient has the right to accept it," Hoffman said.

Some donors make generous gifts as part of an effort to rehabilitate their reputations, Hoffman said.

"It could compensate for past wrongs or questionable ethical behavior, even though it doesn't excuse the behavior," Hoffman said.

However, Hoffman questioned the decision to name the new building after Frank.

"There is an implied sense of honoring the person, when you name a building or scholarship or program after someone," Hoffman said. "If Brown sacrifices its reputation or its character -- in terms of what it stands for -- by naming buildings after people who have questionable character, it will, in the long run, prove to be a disservice to the institution, not a blessing."

From The Providence Journal

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