By Peter Rooney

The student body has voted overwhelmingly to donate $100,000 to help the college deal with its budget woes. The gift specifies that $50,000 go toward financial aid and $20,000 toward helping maintain staff pay among Amherst’s lowest-paid employees. The remaining $30,000 will create an Interim Student Life Fund, which will pay for student programming that is traditionally funded by the administration but has been cut or canceled due to the financial crisis. The $100,000 will come from a reserve fund of unspent money generated by student activity fees from previous years.

Believed to be the first of its kind, the gift is a significant example of college students donating money to help their alma maters grapple with an economic crisis that is forcing schools nationwide to cut budgets.

“Our students are forcefully rejecting the image of a ‘me-first’ generation,” President Anthony W. Marx said on the day the donation was announced. “They are putting their own money where all of our values must be, ensuring future educational opportunities and protecting our most vulnerable colleagues.”

Students who worked for passage of the referendum said they hope the vote demonstrates that they care deeply about Amherst’s fundamental values. “This vote should send a message to the administration and whoever is making decisions about budget cuts about where the values of the student body lie,” said Mason Bradbury ’10, who serves on the Association of Amherst Students committee that administered the vote. “If someone has to prioritize things at Amherst to be cut, financial aid should not be anywhere near the top of the list… We also want the staff to know we are very grateful [for] the contributions they make to the running of the college, and we hope our contribution will help prevent layoffs and wage cuts for the staff that are most vulnerable in this economic climate.”

In March, 1,009 students—almost 60 percent of the student body—voted on a referendum that asked them whether they wanted to donate $70,000 of the money, and if so, how they would like it allocated. Of those who voted, 918 students voted in favor of the $70,000 gift, with 711 of them voting in favor of the financial aid and staff pay package. With the vote, the AAS Senate is now authorized to make the donation. The vote on the other $30,000 came a few weeks earlier.

“What makes this gift so significant is not its dollar amount, which is substantial, but that students have overwhelmingly demonstrated their support for the college’s need-blind admissions policies and its commitment to equitable pay for staff,” Marx says. “It’s also a reminder to me that students not only back those values but will be holding us accountable to those values as we grapple with our budget problems.”