College Students Protest, Alumni’s Fondness Fades and Checks Shrink

Anemona Hartocollis, New York Times, August 4, 2016

Scott MacConnell cherishes the memory of his years at Amherst College, where he discovered his future métier 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 $5.

A backlash from alumni is an unexpected aftershock of the campus disruptions of the last academic 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 laundry list of complaints.

Alumni from a range of 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, that he had failed “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 founder of an internet start-up and a former hedge fund manager. “This is not your daddy’s liberalism.”

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Among about 35 small, selective liberal arts colleges belonging to the fund-raising organization Staff, or Sharing the Annual Fund Fundamentals, that recently reported their 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.

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At Princeton, where protesters unsuccessfully demanded the removal of Woodrow Wilson’s name from university buildings and programs, undergraduate alumni donations dropped 6.6 percent from a record high the year before, and participation dropped 1.9 percentage points, according to the university’s website. A Princeton spokesman, John Cramer, said there was no evidence the drop was connected to campus protests.

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