Staff Editorial: Students caught in alumnus donation crossfire

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March 2, 2007

3:41 PM

The decision of former Board of Visitors member and ’62 alumnus James McGlothlin to withhold a $12 million pledge comes as disappointing news to the campus community. While it is undeniably the prerogative of all alumni to pledge or retract financial contributions from the College, his withdrawal of future contributions, made in response to College President Gene Nichol’s decision to remove the Wren Chapel cross, sets a dangerous and troubling precedent of alumni using financial donations as a tool to influence or buy College policy.

p. In December, The Flat Hat printed a staff editorial questioning Nichol’s methods and the secretive way in which he removed the cross, and called for more open dialogue. Nichol has since acknowledged that he should have sought the opinion of students and alumni before making his decision. Regardless, neither he nor any other member of the school’s administration should compromise what they feel is best for the College for the sake of alumni or dollars.

p. As a loyal friend and longtime contributor to the College who has a building on campus co-named after him, McGlothlin’s refusal to even consider future gifts to the College is a shock.

p. The school should always address and remain open to concerns of alumni, yet the College’s first and foremost responsibility is to the students, faculty and staff who make up our immediate community. Fortunately, McGlothlin’s decision does not require immediate action on the part of the school. Since the donation is based on the value of his estate upon his death, the College is not immediately affected, although the endowment fund has now dipped below the $500 million goal.

p. It remains a possibility that the Wren cross controversy and McGlothlin’s retracted donation will back Nichol and the College into a financial and political corner. However, the Wren cross represents fundamental principles of the College, which include but are not limited to self-governance, and are neither quantifiable nor up for purchase. The College must be a place of open and honest dialogue where all members of the community work together to ensure progress and development, both as an academic institution and as a close-knit community.

p. Regardless of what the coming weeks and months bring to this issue, the College cannot allow a precedent of excessive alumni intervention to be set. No single person should carry such influence over a large and diverse community as McGlothlin has sought. We chastised Nichol for making such a drastic decision without the input of others. The College would be foolish to allow McGlothlin to do the same. Though it is a shame that he has decided to wield his checkbook as a weapon against the College, in the end our integrity as an institution is more important than the money ever could be.

p. Editor’s note: Updated at 1:21 p.m. March 3 to reflect previous edits.

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