On an Institution’s Priorities

At Amherst and other similar elite institutions, there’s no question that money is a driving force. Wealthy alums have buildings named after them, the College spends thousands on coveted speakers and the AAS consistently touts its million dollar budget. The question of our endowment, and more importantly, its strong associations with powerful alumni have been brought to attention in a recent New York Times piece. The article features interviews with Amherst alums who have since retracted or reduced their gifts to the college in the wake of events such as Amherst Uprising. Furthermore, as the senior gift committee begins to solicit donations from the next graduating class, a crucial discussion regarding the importance of funding will inevitably arise. Should we give to an institution that fails to accurately represent us and, if yes, how do we best ensure that our gift will be going toward improving the college?

As the Times article showed, many alums are making their opinions known by pulling out or reducing their donations. In the wake of Amherst Uprising and changes such as the official removal of Lord Jeff, these few wealthy donors let the college know they were not happy with the changes. This influence of money is incontrovertible, but student voices have unique ability to exert their own sort of influence, in this historic moment of campus activism across the country. By pulling their money out of the College, these alums are merely silencing their own voices.

This debate begs the question of the role of alumni versus the role of current students. How do we balance the views of the students at the College today with years of past Amherst experience? And how do we balance the diversity of perspectives among alumni themselves? As became apparent at Amherst Uprising, forcing current students into the boxes left by alumni will never end well. Alumni may have such a strong power base because of the wealth they can offer to the College, but current students will also soon be graduates. It is unsustainable to accommodate the views of an already ever-changing body. Better to act like an actual academic institution, than a corporation appealing to a wealthy minority.