Discourse / Editorials / April 23, 2014

Thoughts from the Embers: Don’t snub largest donation in college history

EmbersKnox is like any other small, liberal arts college with a relatively small endowment: there’s a constant balancing of institutional priorities between different areas of campus — and deciding where to devote limited funds can be divisive.

But major donations to the college, regardless of how they’re earmarked, should always be welcome.

Last week, President Teresa Amott announced a $5 million donation to the college for a new fine arts building. The gift was the largest donation to the college in its history, but not everyone was pleased. To some, the money would be better spent on other projects, such as renovating SMC, giving attention to small departments like Africana and Gender and Women’s Studies, which are housed in an athletic facility, or improving Knox’s dwindling housing supply as we grow the student body.

While these are all valid concerns, it’s counterproductive to accept major donations with anything but gratitude. We must consider how $5 million earmarked for an arts building can help the college indirectly address those pressing concerns.

For instance, a new art building would free up plenty of space in CFA, which could then be occupied by those departments that don’t deserve to be marginalized in a non-academic building on the outskirts of campus. This exercises the same logic used in the Alumni Hall project, which will free up spaces currently occupied by various administrative offices.

This also means that money from the general fund that might have otherwise been put toward updating arts facilities will now be freed up for other uses.

These major donations can also help the college market itself to prospective students and their families. There’s no doubt that admitted students and their parents were impressed last week when Amott broke the news to them — they want to see a campus that radiates a sense of activity. And healthy enrollment will only strengthen Knox’s financial position.

Moreover, we’re seeing how major donations can build momentum among Knox’s alumni donor community. The recent gift came from Dick and Joan Whitney Whitcomb (‘57 and ‘56, respectively), whose $500,000 donation kickstarted the Alumni Hall fundraising effort (and they later pitched in another $750,000 toward the $11 million goal). When alumni see these major gifts coming in from a few donors, they’re given a good reason to join in and help the effort.

Ultimately, we must remember that this gift will allow Knox to provide its students with a better education than it could before. TKS is grateful to the Whitcombs for making that possible through their unprecedented generosity.


Tags:  Alumni Hall CFA dick whitcomb donation fundraising Joan Whitcomb Knox College Teresa Amott

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