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To Give or Not to Give?

An alumnus from the 1970’s writes in:

I’m aghast at the idea of a big jump in enrollment. Reasons offered are worse than silly, and will dilute the unique character of Dartmouth — union of place and small size/mostly undergraduates. Not sure why this isn’t covered in alumni communications, or maybe I just overlooked it.

Here’s the thing, though. I love the College and want to continue to support it. I’m a modest donor, but a steady one. I count in the percentage of gifts, a decline of which is cited as disapproval of the recent/current Administration policies.

I remember in my student days alums withholding contributions based on anti-war and liberal activities on campus (both of which I favored at the time). I thought then that conditional alumni love was unfair. If you love the College, you support it.

So what to do?

We all give to the College in gratitude for the things that Dartmouth has done for us, but at the same time, whether we like it or not, our giving (or not) sends a message to the administration regarding our support (or not) of the institution’s current direction. So, as my correspondent writes, what to do?

First off, as we saw last week, alumni are already speaking with their checkbooks. The capital campaign itself is dead in the water, and the number of alumni giving to the College and the amount of money that they are giving are both dropping rapidly. Why?

I expect that the people who are withholding their usual gifts are motivated by a broad range of reasons: the Hanlon administration’s evident efforts to turn the College away from its historic focus on undergraduate education in favor of a research-based agenda; by Phil’s attempted appointment of a non-Ph.D-bearing Dean of the Faculty who favored boycotting all Israeli universities; by the dishonest derecognition of several fraternities much loved by generations of brothers; by the administration’s spineless tolerance of library disruptions by aggressive students. Alumni might even have had enough of a bloated bureaucracy whose burgeoning cost has given us an annual tuition sticker price just shy of $70,000? The list goes on and on and on.

Conversely, we might ask people giving money to point to specific steps taken by the administration to improve the College. There’s not a lot to talk about, is there?

In the end, my view is that alumni should be thoughtful and deliberate with their giving — just as they are, for example, in raising their own children, from whom they might on occasions withhold generosity in the face of bad behavior. Such an action is an honest form of love.

Donating money because one has always done so does little more than enable the Hanlon administration to continue on its current, errant path. Is that what alumni want? Is that an effective expression of love for Dartmouth?

My recommendation would be to put your gifts aside for the moment. Each year in the future, place that hard-earned money in a special account until the day the Trustees come to their collective senses and appoint a President who wants to move the College forward into broad, sunlit uplands, and away from the disorganized swamp of mediocrity that marks today’s Hanlon administration.

Addendum: When I write “disorganized swamp of mediocrity,” I do so based in part on the many administrative foolishness that you read about in this space, but also from learning about inside information that I am not free to disclose. The latter material only serves to reinforce my concern about the poor quality of the College’s leaders.

Addendum: For alumni unwilling to cut the College off completely, an alternative strategy would be to direct giving to specific entities within Dartmouth — like the Political Economy Project — that are doing great work with undergraduate students, rather than sending money to the central administration via the Dartmouth College Fund. A drop in giving to the DCF will register with the Trustees and the administration almost as strongly as a decline in the percentage of alumni who give donations each year.

Addendum: An alumnus writes in:

You can also give to specific teams. I give to squash and tennis.

Addendum: And another:

I believe the low point in this process was the administration tarring the alumni-nominated Trustee process and essentially eliminating it. They nearly lost their run of the table to a democratic proxy contest. Had they done so, things might be far different. Indeed that process began when Alumni pulled Dartmouth’s bacon from the fire financially [in 1891], and were given those seats by agreement and to prevent the problems of that day and this one.

Not donating is a real dilemma. We both know the money donated is what keeps Dartmouth aid flowing… in addition to supporting a bureaucracy. My class is marketing our giving plan in terms of the sponsorship of scholars. All this said, the participation numbers may be speaking for themselves, and my opinions about staying in the process and giving may be an anachronism.

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