Angry alumni stop writing checks

Donation levels falling in wake of student protests

Alumni—many from older generations—aren't on-board with recent student protests and are telling schools with their wallets, Anemona Hartocollis reports for the New York Times

Fundraisers are still trying to determine the total effect of the donation decline, but at small, elite liberal arts institutions alumni are speaking up.

Former donors told the schools that students are too concerned with identity and racial politics, that courses are too frivolous, that students shouldn't judge "heroes" of the past by today's standards, that fraternities are unfairly judged, that men are unfairly targeted with sexual assault investigations, and that university administrators haven't stood up enough to protestors.

About 35 selective, small liberal arts colleges make up Sharing the Annual Fund Fundamentals, also known as Staff. The group reported that, for 2016, 29% of members are behind 2015 dollar levels and 64% are behind in donor numbers.

At Amherst College, alumni-donated money fell 6.5% in fiscal year 2015, and the number of people giving to the alumni fund fell 1.9 percentage points to 50.6%, the lowest rate since the year the school started admitting women.

However, according to a spokesperson, some of that drop-off was because the school received two large reunion gifts in 2015.

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Amherst President Carolyn Martin says the decline in fundraising due to protests isn't surprising.

"I think colleges are places where complicated society-wide issues are always thrashed out, sometimes across generations," Martin says.

Much of the controversy among Amherst alumni stems from the school's decision to distance itself from unofficial mascot Lord Jeffery Amherst, for whom the town is named. He's known to have endorsed spreading smallpox through enemy Native American tribes with infected blankets.

Two alumni, Don MacNaughton, class of '65, and Gordon Hall III, class of '52, wrote a booklet describing how "Lord Jeff" was being unjustly judged.

"He hated the Indians, because any general in his position would have," Hall said.

MacNaughton funded his portion of the publication and promotion with thousands of dollars he otherwise would have given to Amherst.

Another Amherst alumni, Robert Longsworth, class of '99, served as a class agent and president of the New York City alumni association—but left those positions because the school is "so wrapped up in this politically charged mission, rather than staying in its lane and being an institution of higher education."

He reported that friends from other schools—such as Hamilton College, Trinity College, Williams College, Bates College, Middlebury College, and Hobart College—"are not pleased at what's happened on campus, and they've kind of stepped away," (Hartocollis, New York Times, 8/4).

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