Professor Ralph Bradburd was kind enough to send in these thoughts on the College’s charitable gifts to Mount Greylock High School in response to this post.
I see that you’re still up your old tricks. So, why should the college
ever give, indirectly, any of your hard-earned donation money to the local
schools? The answer is enlightened self-interest. You may or may not
remember that Williams College is “nestled in an idyllic valley” in the
Berkshires. That’s great for many students, but it isn’t so great for
faculty who are single, and it isn’t so great for faculty in dual-career
relationships. (As Prof. Roger Bolton once quipped, “There are two kinds
of faculty that Williams has a hard time hiring: single faculty and married
faculty.”) The result? Many departments in the college, Economics one of
them, have a difficult time hiring faculty of the quality that you enjoyed as an undergraduate and that, I presume, you would want undergraduates to continue to enjoy today and in the future, and this means that the effort
and expenditures that go into hiring each year are frighteningly large.
One thing that the college’s location does offer, relative to many other
higher educational institutions, is a rather family-friendly town. It’s
pretty safe here. Drugs aren’t too much of a problem. And, very
importantly, the schools are good. Not “great,” mind you, just “good.”
Unfortunately, even the current level of quality of the local schools is in
great jeopardy because of a combination of factors, important among them the small size of the local tax base and the substantial decline in state funds for our local schools.
If the quality of the local schools declined much from its current level,
they would cease to be an acceptable option for faculty and senior staff.
(Should you believe that this is unlikely, I suggest that you speak with
some of the older retired faculty. They will inform you that prior to the
creation of the Mt. Greylock Regional High School District, virtually all
faculty members sent their children off to boarding school for high
school.) What would be the consequence? Some people would not even
consider coming to teach at Williams because they simply would not be
willing to send their children off to boarding school. Others might still
come here, but the college would have to raise salaries enough to
compensate them for the cost of sending their children to boarding school,
the annual cost of attending which now approximates the cost of attending
Williams. A private school tuition benefit would be taxable if it was not
extended to ALL faculty and ALL staff, raising the gross cost of
effectively providing it, and extending the benefit to all staff would
clearly be very expensive. The impact on town-gown relations of such a
policy could also prove quite costly to the college.
So sure the college could make you happier by not giving any money to
support the local schools, but doing so would be penny-wise and
pound-foolish. I would think that if you learned anything in your
economics courses here, it would have been that money should be expended to the point where the marginal benefits equal the marginal costs. On that basis, supporting local schools is a good use of the college’s money.
Professor Bradburd’s reference to my “old tricks” refers to my, uh, campus activism in the 1980’s. [Don’t you mean “loud-mouth political blow-hardery”? — ed That was the old me! I’m not like that anymore. Sure — ed.]
In any event, Professor Bradburd’s comments seem as sensible today as they did 20 years ago. Whether or not I learned “anything” in my economics courses at Williams is, alas, a matter of some dispute, but whenever one of my students doesn’t understand something, I always blame the teacher first.