For Conn, generosity should come more easily

For President Bergeron to understand how insulting Connecticut College's "gift" to New London is, she needs to imagine that her vice president of development was visiting an alumna whose portfolio was valued at $210 million - the approximate value of Connecticut College's endowment today. If she returned with a check for $12,500, would Bergeron say, "great job!" I suspect not.

In Connecticut, seven colleges and universities (Wesleyan, Trinity, Quinnipiac, Fairfield, Connecticut College, University of Connecticut and the University of Hartford) have a combined endowment of nearly $2 billion. That doesn't include Yale, whose endowment is over $19 billion. (Yale, however, does give to the city of New Haven.) Obviously, the financial landscape has changed considerably since these institutions were founded in the 18th and 19th centuries. Relieving them of taxes back then - income and property taxes - was a smart idea and allowed them to build great institutions.

But now we need another great idea about how a non-profit can be a reliable fiscal partner to the city in which it resides. I would suggest pegging contributions to the size of the the endowment would be a place to start. And we don't need to hear the tired old argument that students would ultimately pay more if any kind of "tax" was instituted. We never hear that argument when administrators or coaches are paid six- and seven-figure salaries.

Yes, these institutions bring economic value to their towns, but I would also suggest that everyone - the town and the institution - would benefit even more if the cities had great schools, libraries, parks and reliable city services - all things that would also attract a well-paid populace, which in turn would add to the tax base.

In this time when there is a daily lament about the intrusion of government, wouldn't it be refreshing if the presidents and trustees of these respected institutions took the moral high road and used their collective knowledge and resources to come up with a fair, equitable and reliable solution? In some ways, Connecticut College is in an enviable position; moving up from $12,500 shouldn't be too hard.

Pam Alexander formerly served as director of Annual Giving for Colby College in Maine as director of development at the Hewitt School - a private K-12 girls' school in New York City. She lives in Stonington.

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