Two donations bring Campaign to $450M

Fay Vincent ’60 didn’t think much about the importance of a good jacket during his time at the College. Luckily for him, scholarship students having proper dress attire was the kind of detail former director of financial aid Hank Flynt ’44 rarely forgot.

“We were going over budgets at the beginning of one year and he noticed I didn’t have money for a sport coat budgeted in mine,” Vincent said. “So he told me ‘you’ll need a new sport coat, so remember to put that down.’ And I did, and I was glad I did.”

Vincent’s continuing gratitude for Flynt’s thoughtful aid became a matter of public record last Tuesday, when the College released a statement on the progress of the Williams Campaign. Spurred by substantial gifts from Vincent and trustee Paul Neely ’68, the Campaign has now raised $450 million to fund College initiatives ranging from building projects to creating smaller classes. Vincent’s contribution will endow a pair of funds, both named for Flynt, to support undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships, while Neely’s will finance the creation of a chaired professorship named for J. Hodge Markgraf ’52, who passed away last January.

The Flynt endowment for graduate study will fund up to three years of students’ coursework in any program in any university in the world, including pre-professional programs like law and medical school. Though many details of the fellowship are still being solidified, it will be awarded to at least one member of the Class of 2008 later this year. In the future it will also be open to recent graduates. According to fellowships coordinator Lynn Chick, more specific information on the scholarship will be released after spring break.

Vincent’s other gift will create an endowment to fund financial aid for students at the College, bolstering the amount of money available for need-based awards.

The total value of the two gifts is approximately $7 million, the majority of which will be transferred to the College upon Vincent’s death.

Neely’s donation created the J. Hodge Markgraf ’52 Professorship, which is open to faculty in all fields and will be awarded to a professor known for exceptional scholarship, teaching and citizenship, as Markgraf was during his career at Williams. Though no official date has been set for when the chair will be filled, President Schapiro said the College will be moving quickly to do so.

Neely and Vincent cited desires to honor Markgraf and Flynt as driving reasons behind their decisions to donate.

Markgraf, a professor of chemistry, served the College in many capacities over the years, including stints as provost and as secretary of the presidential search committee that found Schapiro in 2000. It was while serving on this committee that he and Neely became fast friends. “I admired him personally and his relationship to the College so much,” Neely said.
During his time as director of financial aid at the College, Flynt was known for the individual attention and care he gave to scholarship students, helping them draw up budgets at the beginning of each year and offering guidance whenever they ran into trouble. “He was a wonderful person to deal with – very thoughtful, sensitive, generous, accommodating,” Vincent said of Flynt. “I wanted to honor him in some way and I wanted to do it before he died so he would know about it.” Vincent also said that he hoped Flynt would be able to participate in choosing the first winners of his fellowship.

Speaking to the broader question of whether schools with endowments as robust as Williams’s truly need alumni donations, a topic he addressed in a Wall Street Journal essay in December, Vincent drew a distinction between the College’s needs and those of individual students. “’Needs’ implies they can’t function at the highest level without more money,” he said. “I don’t think Williams needs gifts, even like mine – but I want to support Williams and its students the way they supported me. I want to honor that commitment.”
The College started the Campaign in 2003, with an initial goal of raising $400 million to pay for projects like expanding financial aid and building the Paresky Center. In June 2007, Schapiro announced that the Campaign had reached that goal, but would continue its fundraising efforts through its previously planned Dec. 31, 2008 end date.

“We knew that we needed to get a good deal past $400 million just to match what was originally in our plan for what the Campaign would fund,” said Neely, who also serves as the Campaign’s co-chair. Changes to the Stetson-Sawyer project, unexpected inflation in the cost of building materials and the decision to eliminate loans from financial aid awards all contributed to the heftier price tags for the projects.

According to Schapiro, the Campaign will be focusing in particular on raising more money for financial aid this year. “Despite the many millions of restricted financial aid endowment that have come in, the greatly enhanced level and range of our aid packages means that we are taking more and more unrestricted money to cover it,” he said.

Reports of a coming recession may leave some wondering whether the Campaign’s success will continue in the coming months. Steve Birrell, vice president for alumni relations and development, suggested that the College is cognizant of the broad trend, but not terribly concerned. “We’re aware of what’s going on the larger financial markets, but I don’t know if it’s true to say that we’re concerned,” he said. “I do know that we’ve seen no evidence of it impacting our own fundraising, at least not to this point.”

Birrell did note that the rate of giving to the alumni fund is slightly lower than it was at this point last year, but suggested that there were many possible explanations for the small drop.

When asked about the possible effects of an economic downturn on the Campaign, Neely acknowledged the potential concern but quickly pointed out the unchanging nature of milestones that often spur alumni giving. “The 50-year reunion always comes around no matter what the stock market is doing,” he said.

The Campaign’s final months will be bolstered by the efforts of Pamela Besnard ’84, the new director of leadership giving. After a month-long search, Besnard was chosen as the permanent replacement for Megan Morey, who left the College in December to work at Amherst.