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Concerned alumni call for refusal of Brownells/Redmond donation

This year has seen students, faculty, staff, community members and alumni banding together to call for the rejection of further donations from Pete Brownell to Grinnell College. Brownell is a Grinnell resident, the president of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the CEO of Brownells, Inc, located just outside Grinnell.  

Following marches, protests, forums and panels, letters written and petitions signed, there has been no response from Brownell regarding his relationship with the NRA or the College. The College has issued no public statement regarding the issue. 

Most recently, a group of alumni have written a petition asking the College to reject further gifts from Brownell, arguing that he represents “the National Rifle Association’s deleterious impacts on the quality of American life.”  

As of April 14, 345 Alumni, 76 current students and 53 others had signed the petition, just 26 signatures shy of their 500-signature goal.  

Alumni began their efforts in the summer of 2017, writing to President Kington and asking the College to consider revising its gift acceptance policy to prohibit donations from Brownell and others whose values do not align with the College’s. 

After researching the gift acceptance policies of other colleges, Grinnell released an updated policy in February, but according to Chuck Connerly ’68, a member of the Concerned Alumni, this revision did not resolve the issue. 

“We really wanted a specific action that the college was going to not continue to receive or accept funds from Brownell. It didn’t really say whether they would or wouldn’t. It basically said they could.” Connerly said. This dissatisfaction prompted the Concerned Alumni to start their petition. 

Connerly acknowledges that not all alumni are supportive of the movement. Some have declined to sign the petition, hesitating to create a “line” on which to morally judge those who wish to contribute money to Grinnell and questioning whether accepting money from Pete Brownell can be equated to accepting money from the NRA. 

To Connerly, “If there is a line, the NRA is on the other side of it.” 

And Connerly believes that Brownell is undeniably connected with the NRA. 

“As president of the NRA he is very much a part of it, and he’s a leader in it. And so I don’t think you can really distinguish between him writing a personal check and receiving a check from the NRA.” 

The College, on the other hand, argues that Brownell’s donations do valuable work by funding the Ignite Program, which brings local students to campus for classes led by students at the College. In an email to James S. (Trip) Kennedy  ’68, published by The S&B on March 1, 2018, President Kington acknowledged his own opposition to the NRA as an organization, but wrote that  “… divergent political and social views in a town like Grinnell, while challenging, is fundamentally beneficial to our educational mission, as long as we can engage in civil conversations and refrain from dehumanizing those who do not agree with our own views … The Ignite Program, which [Brownell and Redmond’s] gift initiated four years ago, is one of the ways they have helped to make the Grinnell community a better place to live and raise a family.” 

In an email to The S&B this week, Sarah Smith, the director of the Ignite Program, affirmed the importance of the program, writing that it is “intended to share the joy of learning, welcome our youngest neighbors to campus, build bridges and promote socio-economic access in our small rural community.” 

Connerly says the Concerned Alumni do not dispute the program’s value, and points to a section in the petition calling for the continuance of the “very worthy” Ignite Program with funding provided by alumni, students, faculty, staff and friends of the College — but not Pete Brownell. 

The alumni asked to present their petition to the Board of Trustees next week, but the Board declined their request, citing a busy agenda and referring them to the Gift Acceptance Committee, a committee that has met just once since its creation in 2015. 

Still, Connerly says the Concerned Alumni expect the College to respond by the end of the school year, and before the Class of ’68 50-year reunion, where Connerly believes that if the alumni of 1968 (22 of which have both signed the petition and will be at the reunion) are unsatisfied with the College’s response, the issue will be brought up. 

“This sounds really overused, but Grinnell is not like any other college — not like a lot of other colleges. I mean, there is this [progressive tradition] … that has taken place at Grinnell and we hate to see that tradition sullied, basically in the interest of funding. We’re really challenging which is more important.” 

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  • S

    Sharyn ObsatzMay 10, 2018 at 7:33 pm

    Thank you for your continued coverage of this issue. It matters to a lot of alumni, myself included. I teach at Santa Monica College, where a gunman armed with an assault rifle killed 3 people and entered the campus library, hoping to kill many more, before he was killed by campus police. I will never understand how Brownell could claim to care about school children in Grinnell but not care about school children elsewhere getting shot and killed in their schools and colleges.

  • D

    Disgusted StudentMay 10, 2018 at 1:11 pm

    This is clearly tyranny of the minority. I understand that retired alumni need a pet cause, but enough is enough. Students are more concerned with whether they will get enough aid to pay their tuition next year, or whether they will be able to find employment when they graduate. It’s a shame that alumni are fighting to take resources away from existing students.