The front page of Friday’s New York Times featured a welcome report by Anemona Hartocollis on how alumni aversion to left-wing protests and the squelching of free speech on campus is starting to hit those elite alma maters right in the pocketbook: “Amid College Protests, Alumni Are Less Fond and Less Giving.”
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.
Hartocollis zeroed in on how the controversy is hurting administrations where they live.
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.
Hartocollis focused on Amherst College in Massachusetts, where alumni giving has dropped.
Much of the alumni unrest at Amherst crystallized around the college’s decision to renounce its unofficial mascot, Lord Jeffery Amherst, known as Lord Jeff, an 18th-century British commander in the French and Indian War who gave his name to the town and, by extension, the college.
A new generation of students has criticized his attitude toward Native Americans; he endorsed the idea of spreading smallpox among enemy tribes by giving them infected blankets.
In the category of supercorrectness, some [Amhert] alumni note that in March, a new director of the Women’s and Gender Center asked to be addressed as “they,” rather than “he” or “she.” “This is not a joke,” Paul Ruxin, who identified himself as “Old Curmudgeon class of ’65,” wrote to his classmates shortly before he died in April.
David Pennock, class of ’60, one of four generations of his family to have gone to Amherst, is so invested in the college that he bridles at incorrect pronunciations of the name. “Our Amherst is pronounced without the H,” he said.
Robert Longsworth, class of ’99, the seventh in his family to have attended Amherst, has been the president of the New York City alumni association and a class agent. But he has withdrawn, he said, because of his sense that the college has become “so wrapped up in this politically charged mission rather than staying in its lane and being an institution of higher education.”
Mr. Longsworth, 39, who works in the financial industry, said he thought erasing history only made people more vulnerable to racism. “When the administration and faculty and ultimately a lot of the student body spends a great deal of time on witch hunts, I think that a lot of that intellectual rigor is forgone,” he said.
Mr. Longsworth said he had heard from “friends who went to Hamilton, Trinity, Williams, Bates, Middlebury, Hobart, who are not pleased at what’s happened on campus, and they’ve kind of stepped away.” For these alumni, he said, refusing to write a check “seems to be the only lever that can make a difference.”
Still, a nytimes.com search shows that the Times had as of Friday morning completely ignored a related story: the thuggish tactics undertaken to punish Rohini Sethi, vice president of the Student Government Association at the University of Houston. (The Washington Post has written up the story.)
Her heinous offense? Writing “Forget #BlackLivesMatter; more like #AllLivesMatter” on her personal Facebook page the night five Dallas police officers were assassinated at a Black Lives Matter protest. A student senate kangaroo court passed a special bill that only applied to Sethi’s situation, then suspended her from her post for 55 days and be obliged to attend diversity workshops.