Letter to the editor: Why I Have Stopped Donating to the College

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ANGELA VASISHTA // THE FLAT HAT

Three years ago, on a Saturday morning in May, I went to the New York Athletic Club to meet the new Athletic Director, Samantha Huge. She had just begun her position and had traveled to New York to impress the local donors with her vision for Tribe Athletics.

When the event ended, I introduced myself to Ms. Huge. I told her that I swam for the College and I conveyed the culture the team had built, achieving a lot with little. I told her the addition of a first-rate facility could help make a strong team stellar. I’ll never forget her response.

“If you want that swimming pool,” she said, “then I challenge you to make it happen.” I thought maybe she had misunderstood me. I began repeating myself until I realized every time I spoke she interrupted me with the same refrain.  “I challenge you to make it happen.” The exchange continued like this until I walked away.

My response was visceral. I represented the College for four years, I had donated to it annually, and yet, someone earning a quarter million dollars a year, less than a month on the job, found it suitable to shirk the very responsibilities she was hired to perform and set them upon someone she had never met.

This, I thought, could not bode well for the future. Three years later, not only has Ms. Huge made few, if any, efforts toward building a new pool, she has axed the teams entirely.

Nothing about this is bold. It is cowardly, it is myopic, and it is not worthy of my alma mater.

More important than the parochial nature of this action is the tangle of inconsistencies, the lack of accountability, the erroneous math, the incontrovertible plagiarism, the deafening silence, and, in some cases, the lies in which those actions have been embroiled. These are what alarm me. These, more than anything, are what insult me. For these reasons and more, I have stopped donating to the College.

In her open letter eulogizing the cut teams, Ms. Huge stated, “We have searched for alternatives to discontinuing varsity sports, without success.” Searched?  Where? With whom? How robust, how imaginative was this search? When Coach Shaver was “without success,” he was fired.

For a lack of ingenuity, I have stopped donating to the College.

Rector John E Littel sent an email stating, “Every program was given a target that was developed after an analysis of multi-year contributions by each sport and coaches, athletes, and alumni were actively engaged to help achieve these targets.” Balderdash. Swimming alumni were not engaged. Were prospective rowing donors David Covin and Beth Sala Covin given a target? Would Mr. Littel, chief referee for USRowing, kindly expound?

For a lack of honesty, I have stopped donating to the College.

On June 25 of this year, Ms. Huge stated publicly that there were no intentions to cut any sports. Either Ms. Huge was lying as the cuts were being crafted, or she, the Provost, the President and the Board of Visitors all made and enacted an astonishingly hasty, myopic, closed-door decision.

For a lack of prudence, I have stopped donating to the College.

Ms. Huge cut 30 percent of the College’s sports teams, those that account for just 12 percent of its expenses. In Ms. Huge’s three years at the College, student fees for athletics have increased $1.4 million. Of the $2,490 students currently pay each year to help fund sports teams, approximately $31, a mere 1.2 percent, goes to men’s and women’s swimming—combined.

For a lack of fiscal logic, I have stopped donating to the College.

Despite the College’s supposed destitution, Ms. Huge insists the $57 million Kaplan renovations will proceed as scheduled. During this very pandemic she has elected to spend over $1.8 million at Zable to resurface the track and another $1.2 million on other gratuitous upgrades.  She wrote, “Although William & Mary Athletics has seen very strong support, it is not sufficient to address the underlying challenges of our current model.” Because the “current model” of relentlessly keeping up with the highflying Joneses is flawed and doomed to fail.

For a lack of judiciousness, I have stopped donating to the College.

In her 18 years of professional experience, prior to arriving in Williamsburg, Ms. Huge worked at (1) Southern Conference, (2) Illinois, (3) Michigan State, (4) Wake Forest, (5) Georgetown, (6) Delaware and (7) Texas A&M.  Ms. Huge’s eighth stop is no “full-circle dream come true,” but one more mile marker to pass on her journey to satisfying personal ambitions, as evidenced by her recent application to work at Vanderbilt.

For a lack of commitment, I have stopped donating to the College.

Ms. Huge knows what we all know.  Men’s and women’s swimming requires roughly $580,000 a year to operate.  In 2019, the teams’ endowment was $3 million with a 3.75 percent drawdown, or $118,000.

The same year, alumni donated another $194,000, and the College received $73,000 from the NCAA.  This left the College in need of $195,000 to fund 53 athletes across two teams that win titles, earn national respect, teach swimming, fundraise for the American Cancer Society, and maintain a higher GPA than the school average, surely embodying the ethos of Tribe Pride.

For a lack of ability to align our investments with our values, I have stopped donating to the College.

In just 10 days, the swim team secured over $1 million in pledges.  Despite this money adding five years of life to the program, Athletics remains unmoved.  What, then, if not money, is the actual issue?  Perhaps Ms. Huge is embarrassed that her Olympic sports teams outperform her commercialized sports teams, despite their limited resources.  Perhaps Ms. Huge wants these teams’ endowments and their admission slots to augment those of other teams.  Perhaps Ms. Huge wants to pamper certain athletes with even more access to trainers and advisors, when enough already exist.  Perhaps Ms. Huge wants to relieve herself of the athletes who have accused her of berating them.  Or, perhaps, Ms. Huge is just lazy, not the least bit bold, and wants fewer staff to manage.

The reason, whatever it is, no longer matters.  My confidence is gone.  I have stopped donating to the College.  Countless others have done the same.

D. R. Hildebrand

drhildebrand@hotmail.com