Former Williams Director of Athletics Harry Sheehy ’75 gave a too-honest interview to The Dartmouth last month. We are (mostly!) fans of Sheehy and were sad when he left Williams for Dartmouth a decade ago. (Relevant discussions here, here, here, here and here.) Sheehy is now very much in the tell-it-like-it-is stage of his career, so this interview is filled with gems. Let’s discuss for a week.

The Dartmouth: Could you discuss further why, if alumni come in with donations to provide significant funding to these teams, it would not be possible to keep them?

Sheehy: First of all, I don’t think the alums have an understanding of what it would actually take. For example, in ’02-’03, when we eliminated swimming, the alumni stepped up to save the program, but they didn’t endow the program. So some of the articles have been wrong. They’ll say, “Well, the alumni stepped up to endow the team back in ’03.” Well, they didn’t. What they gave was $2 million of current use money. That means the budget every year came out of that, and that was a spend-down account. It wasn’t spinning off any income because $2 million spins off about $80,000 a year. That doesn’t pay for anything. That number has to be five times bigger to be an endowment.

Good stuff! Sheehy should be praised for his transparency. Too many members of the Dartmouth (and Williams) community don’t really understand how the money works.

A lot of people wrote in and said, “With a $5 billion endowment, how could you possibly do this?” An incredibly high percentage of our endowment are restricted funds. It’s not like our $5 billion spins off $250 million that the College can spend any way it wants. That’s not how endowments work. People give money to endow things with an expressed purpose. For example, a lot of our coaching positions are endowed. That’s what that money is used for. It can’t go to pay travel. It can’t go to pay for equipment. It has to go for the expressed purpose of the endowment. When you endow financial aid, you can’t take that money and spend it on our athletics. The endowment argument is a little bit specious because I just don’t think people understand how endowments work.

This is garbage (with a pinch of truth), and I suspect that Sheehy knows it. “Restricted funds” are every administrator’s favorite excuse for doing what he wants.

First, Buddy Teevens is the The Robert L. Blackman Head Football Coach. This is an endowed position, making use of “restricted funds.” But what would happen if Dartmouth dropped football? Would that money vanish? Would Dartmouth, without a football program, be forced to hire a coach forever? Of course not! Dartmouth, and every elite college, has moved money around from its “intended” purpose ever since the first donor left town.

Second, money is fungible. How often do we have to point this out? Every annual flow of restricted funds is always less, by design, then its intended use. If Dartmouth spends $50 million on financial aid, it does not matter if “restricted funds” for that purpose total $20 or $30 million or any number less than $50 million. The total has to come from somewhere. The discretion comes in all the money which tops off the various buckets. Dartmouth can move that money around at will, as Sheehy well knows.

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