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Shame on Connecticut College

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published April 02. 2014 4:00AM

It is interesting that Ruth Simmons, president emerita of Brown University, will give the keynote speech this Saturday when Katherine Bergeron, a former dean at Brown, is inaugurated here in New London as the 11th president of Connecticut College.

Simmons is the Brown president, who, when the university's host city of Providence was worried about having to declare bankruptcy, came to the rescue.

Brown agreed in 2012 to voluntary payments of $31 million to Providence over 11 years, on top of the $4 million in annual taxes and voluntary payments it already makes to the city.

Brown is "deeply concerned about Providence's financial situation," Simmons said at a May 2012 press conference with the Providence mayor, announcing the tens of millions of dollars in new school aid to the city.

Contrast that to Bergeron, who since taking the helm at Connecticut College in January has turned down a plea from New London's mayor to make even a modest increase in the $12,500 a year it volunteers to its host city.

"The college is not looking to revisit it," Bergeron told a reporter of the $12,500 payments in an article that ran Tuesday.

The question arose because the Connecticut General Assembly has before it proposed legislation that would make colleges and hospitals responsible for their municipal tax bills.

With a property assessment of $213.9 million, some 20 percent or less of Brown's, Connecticut College could owe New London up to $5.8 million in taxes. Under the proposed legislation, the schools and hospitals would get reimbursed by the state instead of the municipalities, a reimbursement rate currently at 33 cents on the dollar.

How is $12,500 a reasonable voluntary payment when that much in taxes is being excused for the college? I think if the city weren't so broke, most residents would like to tell the college to keep its measly $12,500.

Indeed, $12,500 should be an embarrassment to the entire community of Connecticut College, which is becoming a social predator on a poor city, where the median income is under $23,000 a year and a cash-starved school system gets failing grades.

One anonymous reader commented on the story about Bergeron's holding firm at $12,500 that the taxes on the reader's house in New London, on half an acre, are more than that amount.

And you have to presume that city police don't have to respond to that reader's much-taxed house when a student triggers a fire alarm with a dorm-room drug factory or a cafeteria worker is accused of sexual assault.

Simmons set up her generous voluntary payment schedule with Providence - one not unlike significant contributions by other schools, including Connecticut's Yale University - despite a provision of a 1764 Colonial charter in Rhode Island that says Brown should be free and exempt from all taxes.

Clearly, the stewards of more enlightened institutions understand 21st century economics and the challenges faced by the small impoverished cities that have hosted them all these years.

They also seem to understand why it is better to volunteer to help than to be made to pay.

I think people are already weary of rich colleges and hospitals saying they do their share for the poor cities that host them, because they are job creators and their employees and students volunteer in the community.

Residents also volunteer and give back to their communities. And they pay taxes that go toward police, firefighter and teacher salaries.

And there is nothing to say the people who earn those big salaries - Lawrence + Memorial Hospital has more than a dozen executives who make more than $200,000, according to its 2012 tax return - don't live in the suburbs outside New London.

Former Connecticut College President Claire Gaudiani was roundly criticized for her interference in New London politics and investment of college money in the city.

But who can't respect her often-repeated goal of social justice and improving life in an impoverished city that, once upon a time, generously laid out the vision of a shining college on the hill.

Little did New Londoners know then they were establishing a gilded enclave of arrogance.

This is the opinion of David Collins

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