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Charitable Giving

Helen Ouellette, Vice President for Administration and Treasurer, was kind enough to provide this summary of the College’s charitable giving:

The past year’s contributions include $250,000 to the high school to save teaching positions that, even with the override that was voted, would have been lost due to the drop in state funding; $16,000 to the ambulance service (which Williams students tend to monopolize!); and $15,000 awarded competitively in Olmstead grants to local teachers for curricular and professional development. As you know, we also announced last week a $1 million contribution to the North Adams Regional Hospital, though that will be paid out over a number of years.

Because we are ourselves a public charity, we can only direct the money we steward outside the College if such a contribution is in support of our core mission of education. Consequently such gifts tend to be to local schools, the hospital, and core civic infrastructure, all of which are vital to our ability to recruit and retain the quality of people we need. This usually plays out in the press as philanthropy, but its actual motivation is a narrow self-interest in the needs of Williams.

Thanks to Helen for so quickly providing this run down. It seems like almost everyone that I deal with at the College is kind and competent and quick to answer my questions.

I am somewhat mollified by this information. If the College is spending less than, say, $500,000 per year on charity, out of an operating budget of over $100 million, then there is nothing outlandish going on. Gifts to the ambulance service are more of an operating expense than a charitable gift.

At the same time, I simply do not believe that these gifts are: “vital to our ability to recruit and retain the quality of people we need.” The College hires two sorts of people: those who already live in the area and those who need to be induced to move there. The latter are overwhelmingly faculty.

Those already in the region have made the choice about the costs and benefits living in a place like Williamstown. Although it is nice for them if the College spends its endowment on making their local hospital better — just as it would be nice for them if the College spent money on better roads, nicer parks, more police officers and every other item near and dear to residents of any town — there is no benefit to the College per se in doing so.

The (mostly junior) faculty that the College is recruiting to come to Williams are, in general, so thankful to have a tenure track job that the issue of the quality of the local hospital is essentially irrelevant. Moreover, those that have options other than Williams are much more likely to be concerned about Williams’ isolation, and the effect that this has on things like partner employment opportunities, than about NARH.