March 12, 2009
Contact: Peter Rooney
Director of Public Affairs
AMHERST, MA – Students at Amherst College have voted overwhelmingly to donate $70,000 to help the college deal with its budget woes. They’ve further specified that $50,000 of the gift go toward financial aid and the remaining $20,000 toward helping maintain staff pay among Amherst’s lowest-paid employees.
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 in a bid to reduce deficits.
“I have always been proud of the Amherst students, but never more than today,” Amherst President Anthony W. Marx said. “Our students are forcefully rejecting the image of a ‘me-first’ generation. They are putting their own money where all of our values must be, ensuring future educational opportunities and protecting our most vulnerable colleagues. At a time of economic crisis, this is a strong beacon of our fundamental aspirations.”
The $70,000 gift will come from a reserve fund of unspent money generated by student activity fees from previous years. Students have also donated $30,000 to 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.
Students who worked for passage of the referendum said they hope the vote demonstrates that they care deeply about Amherst’s fundamental values, and they expect the administration and trustees to keep that in mind when they consider budget cuts.
“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, of Northampton, Mass., a member of the Association of Amherst Students (AAS) committee that administered the election. “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.”
“The student body feels a larger responsibility to our community as a whole,” added Christopher Tullis ’10E, who also helped with the vote. “We recognize, especially in the context of college-wide cutbacks, that it is impossible to draw a line between one’s own interests and the interests of the community.”
Marx said he’s received those messages, loud and clear.
“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,” he said. “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.”
In total, 1,009 students—almost 60 percent of the student body—voted on a referendum that asked them whether they wanted to donate the money, and if so, how they would like the $70,000 allocated.
Of those who voted, 918 students voted in favor of the $70,000 gift, with 711 then voting in favor of the financial aid and staff pay package. Students also could have voted for a $70,000 donation to the Dean of Faculty to retain one visiting professor for one year. With the vote, the AAS Senate is now authorized to make the donation.