College keeps list of alumni asking questions about free speech climate: two from $1 million plus donor club express concerns

Markle+Hall+of+Administration+%28Hana+Isihara+17%29.

Markle Hall of Administration (Hana Isihara ’17).

Kathryn Kelly

The college’s development office has been keeping a running list, with 112 names currently on it, of alumni who have either expressed concern about the free speech climate on campus or have asked questions about it, Vice President of Development and College Relations Kim Spang said.

This record-keeping began in December 2016, with questions prompted by the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, Spang added. The last time an alumnus or alumna was added to the list was November 2017.

The alumni span the spectrum in terms of how much they have donated to the college in the past, from over $1 million in their lifetime to never having given at all, Spang said. About 20 haven’t given to the college in the last 3 years, and about 12 have declined in their giving or stopped entirely in the last year. Others haven’t changed their donations.

Jack Bourger ’71, for whom the Bourger Varsity Football Field House is named, is one of the donors who stopped giving to the college in the last year. He is a member of the Societe d’Honneur, meaning he has given or pledged more than $1 million to the college in his lifetime.

Bourger has taken issue with several problems he sees with Lafayette, he said, one of which is the political climate where he said conservative students are silenced and don’t feel comfortable sharing their views. He gathered this information from the final report Ad Hoc Committee on Ensuring Inclusive Dialogue, published nearly a year ago, and conversations he has had on campus with students. Some students at the time took issue with the committee, saying that it was not representative of the campus as a whole and had a conservative bias since the outset of its work.

Aside from politics, Bourger is also concerned with the state of the college’s athletics, particularly football which he is passionate about. He pointed out that many programs struggle for a winning percentage, including football having won six games out of 27 in the last three seasons.

Bourger is a member of the Alumni/Alumnae Coalition of Lafayette (ACL), which shares concerns like Bourger’s own, which pertain to the free speech climate on campus and also college’s financial state, with Lafayette having taken on more debt in the last year for the Rockwell Integrated Sciences Center.

The ACL’s mission statement on its website says that the group is “deeply concerned about the management, reputation, lack of non partisan free speech, and the financial health of Lafayette College.”

He said he and other ACL members requested a meeting with Vice President of Finance and Administration Roger Demareski, but were turned down. Demareski said that debt is a healthy part of Lafayette’s financial situation and that it is not something which the college is concerned about, and that he has not had any contact with the ACL as of late.

Al Siegel ’60, also an ACL member, said he has perceived a problem with the college’s faculty leaning “far left,” and if he continues to see this trend, he, too, will stop donating to the college. Just like Bourger, Siegel is a member of the affluent Societe D’Honneur, having given about $500,000 to the college thus far and pledged over $1 million.

Siegel said he is encouraged by the formation of the Lafayette Symposium, which brought two speakers to Lafayette this semester who have each written books on free speech on college campuses: Princeton professor Keith Whittington and University of Pennsylvania professor Sigal Ben-Porath.

Bruce McDermott ’69 is another alumnus member of the ACL who said he and his family has reduced their giving to symbolic amounts “based on concerns and disappointments” he’s seen, related to how the Mill Series is viewed on campus.

He described himself as “a loyal, longtime giver to the college.”

Lafayette’s annual fund has not been affected overall by those donors who have chosen to stop donating, Spang said, as the college’s goals for donations thus far in the fiscal year have been exceeded. That said, she added, the donors who have expressed concerns remain important to the college, and Spang has gone so far as to even go to their homes to meet them and discuss.

“I don’t think this is a Lafayette issue,” Spang said. “I think this is a conversation in the world we’re having today.”

Lafayette’s goal for its annual fund in the fiscal year 2017-2018, which is about halfway over, stands at $8.4 million, with $4.2 million raised at this point. Its goal for alumni participation is to have 8,194 give to the college this year, and that, too, is on track with 4,327 having given already.

Correction: This article originally stated Bruce McDermott’s graduation year as 1986, referencing an incorrect alumnus. The correct alumnus’ class year is 1969.