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Community Hour debates adoption of new Gift Acceptance Policy

Students, faculty, staff and community members gather around to discuss how the College should revise its gift acceptance policy. Photo by Helena Gruensteidl.

This past Tuesday, a Community Hour was held to discuss the current gift acceptance policy of the College and whether changes should be made to it. Those in attendance included current and former faculty members, individuals from the Office of Development and Alumni Relations, alumni and students.

A group of concerned alumni urged President Kington to reevaluate the gift acceptance policy and be more conscious of the origin of donations in an email that was circulated widely last semester. Central to this conversation have been monetary donations to the College by NRA President Pete Brownell. Community Hour leaders, however, stressed that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the gift acceptance policy and the procedures to be followed to implement the policy, and would not concern specific donations, such as those from Brownell.

Prior to December 2015, the College did not have a gift acceptance policy. The current gift acceptance policy has two guiding principles: “Grinnell College seeks to only accept those gifts that have a reasonable expectation of ultimately benefiting the College” and “Grinnell College seeks to only accept gifts that are in the philanthropic interest of the donor. Grinnell College shall not encourage any gifts that are inappropriate in light of the donor’s disclosed personal or financial situation.”

The current gift acceptance policy contains information regarding the Gift Acceptance Committee, a committee that holds seats composed of administrative individuals, a faculty member and a student. However, the committee was not formed and has not met as of December of 2015, when the gift acceptance policy was created.

Chuck Connerly ’68, professor of urban planning at the University of Iowa, represented the Grinnell College Concerned Alumni group. The group created an outline of seven recommendations for the gift acceptance policy. Recommendations included logistical issues, such as having the committee meet and implementing a seat designated for alumni representation on the committee.

Other recommendations connected to the incidences and discussion regarding the donations from Brownell. Such recommendations included that “the College should take into account whether an individual is a leader in an organization whose values differ greatly from the values of the College,” “Grinnell College seeks to accept gifts that do not pose significant reputational risk” and lastly, “The College should adopt a policy whereby a gift will be returned if the donor is found to have misappropriated the College’s name by making public statements that suggest the College’s endorsement of ideas that are counter to the College’s values, traditions, and reputation.”

Some Community Hour attendees noticed that these stipulations raise the issue of how subjective each individual circumstance is and the specific context surrounding each donation. If each donation is put under a microscope, it is probable that many donations could be considered “dirty money” in some aspects. Connerly does not have specific ideas about how this type of distinction will be achieved, but he is confident that it is possible for the Gift Acceptance Committee to come to a solution.

Janet Siez, professor of economics, believes that the best next step would be to establish some sort of policy that allows the College to refuse donations. “I think it will be a positive step just to have a policy in place that enables us to refuse some gifts. I think that conversation has been great,” Seiz said.

“The idea isn’t that anyone who wants to donate has to go through this elaborate political vetting process. … It’s not quite that bad, but some people may question if we should benefit from money that was obtained in an immoral way, or should we be associated publicly with somebody who has done immoral things,” Seiz said.

There are no clear future plans regarding the gift acceptance policy, but the Office of Development and Alumni Relations is currently addressing the problem. The recommendations made by the concerned alumni and notes from the Community Hour will be sent to the Advancement Committee for the Board of Trustees. The Advancement Committee will then discuss the policy proposal and if they vote, the proposal will be presented to the Board of Trustees when they meet in early February for their next meeting. However, if the Advancement Committee does not vote, the discussion regarding the proposal will end.

If any students have any concerns or recommendations regarding the gift acceptance policy, it is not too late to contact Student Government Association President Summer White ’18 at, as White is a member of the Advancement Committee.

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    Sharyn ObsatzFeb 15, 2018 at 8:00 pm

    Anybody know what the Board of Trustees decided? Is Grinnell College going to continue to accept money from an NRA president who defends bump stocks and AR-15s, which just mowed down dozens of students and staff at a school in Florida?