Barry Sternlicht Urges Brown, Other Universities to Get Rid of ‘Agitators’

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(Bloomberg) -- Barry Sternlicht, who went to Brown University and then made a fortune in real estate, said schools should force out “agitators” from campus protests against Israel.

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Sternlicht, head of Starwood Capital Group and a former Brown trustee, recently paused donations to the Ivy League school after it agreed with student protesters to discuss divestment from some holdings tied to the Jewish state. While praising university President Christina Paxson in general terms, Sternlicht assailed that deal and said the intensifying demonstrations have made many students feel unsafe.

“Encourage free speech and debate, not violence, not hate speech,” Sternlicht said in a Bloomberg Television interview late Wednesday with David Westin. “No child should have a fear for his safety walking around the university campus. Get rid of the agitators.”

Colleges have been contending with encampments that have spread across US campuses, where students are protesting against the Israeli bombardment and ground assault in Gaza following the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on the Jewish state.

While some schools have asked police to crack down on the demonstrations, others including Brown and Northwestern University have negotiated agreements with protesters, who have been pushing for college endowments to exit investments tied to Israel.

Under Brown’s deal, five students will meet with trustees this month to make arguments for divestment. The school also said an advisory committee would make a recommendation about divestment, and its governing body will vote on that measure in October. The university hasn’t offered to divest.

Read more: Colleges Ripped for Agreeing to Hear Israel Divestment Demands

College endowments are derived from donations and investment returns, and at the largest universities they fund significant operations including financial aid for students and professor salaries. Brown’s investment fund is valued at $6.6 billion, the smallest in the eight-member Ivy League.

Sternlicht had kind words for Paxson even as he said he opposed divestment.

“Christina Paxson is a great president at Brown University,” he said in the interview. “She’s trying really hard.”

University administrators have long viewed the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement against Israel as antisemitic because it calls into question the legitimacy of the Jewish state and singles out the policies of one country.

Divestment is fiercely opposed by many donors and alumni, and acting on the BDS concept is discouraged by laws in more than half of US states, including Rhode Island, where Brown is based.

Separately, Occidental College reached an agreement with protesters to dismantle an encampment and consider a divestment proposal. Occidental will vote on a recommendation by its internal investment committee by June 6, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The California school reported an endowment value of about $600 million as of June 2023.

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