As College Students Find More to Protest, Alumni Shrink Their Donations

By Hartocollis, Anemona | International New York Times, August 5, 2016 | Go to article overview

As College Students Find More to Protest, Alumni Shrink Their Donations


Hartocollis, Anemona, International New York Times


The smaller donations are a backlash against recent campus disruptions by students who some see as overly sensitive on racial and cultural issues.

Scott MacConnell cherishes the memory of his years at Amherst College, where he discovered his future metier as a theatrical designer. But protests on campus over cultural and racial sensitivities last year soured his feelings.

Now Mr. MacConnell, who graduated in 1960, is expressing his discontent through his wallet. In June, he cut the college out of his will.

"As an alumnus of the college, I feel that I have been lied to, patronized and basically dismissed as an old, white bigot who is insensitive to the needs and feelings of the current college community," Mr. MacConnell, 77, wrote in a letter to the college's alumni fund in December, when he first warned that he was reducing his support to the college to a token five dollars.

A backlash from alumni is an unexpected aftershock of the campus disruptions of the last school year. Although fund-raisers are still gauging the extent of the effect on philanthropy, some colleges -- particularly small, elite liberal-arts institutions -- have reported a decline in donations, accompanied by a long list of complaints.

Alumni from several generations say they are baffled by today's college culture. Among their laments: Students are too wrapped up in racial and identity politics. They are allowed to take too many frivolous courses. They have repudiated the heroes and traditions of the past by judging them by today's standards rather than in the context of their times. Fraternities are being unfairly maligned, and men are being demonized by sexual assault investigations. And university administrations have been too meek in addressing protesters whose messages have seemed to fly in the face of free speech.

Scott C. Johnston, who graduated from Yale in 1982, said he was on campus last fall when activists tried to shut down a free speech conference, "because apparently they missed irony class that day." He recalled the Yale student who was videotaped screaming at a professor, Nicholas Christakis, accusing him of failing "to create a place of comfort and home" for students in his capacity as the head of a residential college.

"I don't think anything has damaged Yale's brand quite like that," said Mr. Johnston, a co-founder of an internet start-up and a former hedge fund manager. "This is not your daddy's liberalism.

"The worst part," he continued, "is that campus administrators are wilting before the activists like flowers." Yale College's alumni fund was flat between this year and last, according to Karen Peart, a university spokeswoman.

Among about 35 small, selective liberal-arts colleges belonging to the fund-raising organization Staff, or Sharing the Annual Fund Fundamentals, that recently reported initial annual fund results for the 2016 fiscal year, 29 percent were behind 2015 in dollars, and 64 percent were behind in donors, according to a steering committee member, Scott Kleinheksel of Claremont McKenna College in California. His school, which was also the site of protests, had a decline in donor participation but a rise in giving.

At Amherst, the amount of money given by alumni dropped 6.5 percent for the fiscal year that ended June 30, and participation in the alumni fund was down by 1.9 percentage points, to 50.6 percent, the lowest participation rate since 1975, when the college began admitting women, according to the college. The amount raised from big donors decreased significantly. …

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