Jocelyn Shadforth ’88 was kind enough to send in these comments on the Mount Greylock contribution:

I wasn’t going to jump into this fray, but, considering my lack of any other substantial blog contributions, perhaps I can offer an alternative view.

Unfortunately for my soon-to-be incoming first-year students in PSC 101 (they like to be called freshmen), I’ve been reading a lot of Robert Putnam this week. (For the non-social scientists out there, he’s the guy with the “bowling alone” thesis, arguing that the decline in civic ties, voluntary associations, etc. has led to greater difficulty in achieving common goods as well as increased atomization in our society.) I don’t mean to sound as if I buy his argument lock, stock, and barrel. (I found his book on civic association in Italy to be a far more convincing piece of work). At the same time, though, I prefer to think of this as simply a College investment in what Putnam refers to as “social capital.” The relationship between town and gown is a constantly shifting one, and it seems that the College is jumping in at a time of need, probably for both altruistic as well as instrumental reasons. Despite our, in my opinion, well-targeted scorn at figures like Chief Zoito and his tailgate hijinks, the community of Williamstown provided an often unheralded contribution to our safety and well-being. The teachers getting these raises staff the town boards, attend the town meetings, and volunteer at the hospital, fire department etc. One of my favorite memories of senior year was Spring Weekend when it seemed everyone jumped in to help build the children’s playground. Students and faculty gave of their time in recognition of the town and the College’s interdependence. While the form of the gift may be different in this case, I think the spirit is the same

As far as the money goes: I’m sure we all have different lists of priorities for our donations. (Why is dept x hiring this year and not dept y? I didn’t get tutorials; why should they?) The bottom-line for me is this: When I read the Chronicle of Higher Ed, I don’t see scandalous stories about Williams. Instead, I see articles about how the College leads the rest of the country in changes regarding financial aid policy to benefit as many students as possible. I have colleagues who seek me out to express their admiration for my alma mater when they read about Williams, its programs, and its values. And, you know what, I think most of them would nod approvingly over this too.

Also, while I’m sure the College contributes mightily to the town’s welfare in other ways, such as tourism, cultural events, etc. let’s keep in mind that it also owns large parcels of land that are tax-exempt. Since most school funding comes from property taxes, a one-time gift of $250K seems to be a reasonable response to a local funding emergency that many communities are also experiencing.

Anyway, that’s my “observation,” for what it’s worth. In the best liberal arts tradition, I argue, not to infuriate, but, hopefully, to learn and to teach. :)

Comments:

1) I am not sure that there is anything here that I disagree with, but I sure do miss arguing with my political science professors, so . . . ;-)

2) Personally, I don’t think institutions like Williams should be exempt from property taxes, but, to the extent that this is a justification for the donation, then the size of the donation might be better matched to what Williams would actually pay if it were not tax-exempt. I have no idea what this might be. Also, shouldn’t the donation then go to the town so that the citizens of Williamstown could decide how they want to distribute the money?

3) As always, we at the blog stand second-to-none in our love of Williams and praise of all those associated with it. Indeed, the alumni association is a great example of Putnamesque social capital at work.

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