Certainly, a $20 million donation presents numerous options to the College. We are extremely grateful to Mr. Allen for his generosity. He asked President Payne what the College needed and offered the donation for that purpose. As Allen said, “Hank Payne was extremely instrumental in identifying the need of the school and having the flexibility of having to deal with someone with obvious idiosyncracies.”
The decision to build a performing arts center has many undeniable benefits, both to the College community and to Williamstown, but the path taken by the president and the Board of Trustees in making this decision is what some faculty and staff members, and what the Record finds objectionable. The fact that the faculty did not have any input into the uses for the donation, or even knowledge of this gift until the decision had already been confirmed.
It is safe to say that as an institution, Williams values faculty judgement. Many of our administrative positions are held by faculty members. Various committees, which deal with College administration, are staffed by faculty members. In fact, the College systematically rotates teaching and administrative posts.
Therefore, when a donation is given to the College which will affect many facets of the College, from increasing general maintenance costs to the creation of new curriculums, the hiring of new faculty to redefining lecture spaces, the faculty ought to have a voice in how that money is spent.
However, this was not the case.
The decision of how to accept the gift came solely from the President and the Board of Trustees. The faculty were given no opportunity to contribute their input. Thus, at the most recent faculty meeting, faculty members voiced their concerns about the way this gift was accepted.
One reason it is troubling is overriding of the committees that were created as a mechanism for seeking faculty input. Specifically, the Committee on Priorities and Resources has a position which has been defined as deciding how the College ought to spend its money. Prior to this donation, the CPR had already expressed in a report their frustration about the extent of their influence as well as their knowledge of the “use of resources” at the College. This report also stated that large capital projects may not be in the best interests of the College’s overall objectives. The proposal for the new arts center does not seem to take into account either of these points of the CPR report.
Furthermore, the CPR, nor the College in general were informed of the advent of this donation. President Payne responded to this complaint, stating that as the donor wanted to work under the condition of anonymity and because the gift was so large, he felt that it was a special circumstance.
It is true that it is ultimately the decision of the president of the College and the Board of Trustees whether or not to accept this gift. It is also true that the donor, as well as the president and the trustees should be able to ultimately determine how the gift, especially one of such magnitude, should be used. It is a donor’s prerogative to specify the use of his/her gift. However, it is the College’s responsibility to weigh the consequences of such a gift. If the acceptance of the gift will cause the College to move in directions contrary to its stated priorities, the College should decline. However, this is impractical, and we do not mean to suggest either that the gift pushes the College in negative directions or that it should have been declined.
What is disturbing is that faculty and committees whose duty is to prioritize the allocation of funds were neither informed nor consulted before the decision was announced.