David Anderson, college president, met with the city’s non-profit administrators on Wednesday for what Blodgett called a “coffee discussion.” During that discussion, Blodgett said Anderson explained the reasoning behind the decision. Anderson did not comment on the matter on Thursday and he has not issued any formal statement about the decision.
“Saint Olaf will continue as well its other contributions to the community,” Blodgett said.
Those contributions, he added, “dwarf the handful of cash donations to the relatively few non-profits affected by the decision
Ann Etter, interim Executive Director of the Northfield Arts Guild said Thursday she was not ready to talk about Saint Olaf’s decision. Daniel Freeman, also of the guild, said he did not feel happy following the discussion.
“I was disappointed with the president’s answer of ‘no further funding for local non-profits,'” Freeman said. “It is an understandable stance, however, and we all recognized that. We now look forward to working with the college to find new ways of capitalizing on the students and faculty and staff in creating awareness of all of our needs.”
Freeman said perhaps now individuals will contribute directly, by donating money or time.
The mission statement of the Laura Baker Association is to “respect the life choices and dreams of people with developmental disabilities and help them reach their goals.” The Downtown Development Corp. works to “sustain a vibrant downtown,” in part through “collaboration and cooperation with other public and private groups.”
Blodgett said the groups may deserve funding, but Anderson, “in thinking about the issue,” determined Saint Olaf should not be a donor.
“The decision reflects a philosophical or ethical point of principle,” Blodgett said. “Students pay tuition and alumni give to Saint Olaf for the express purpose of supporting the core educational mission of the college. Providing cash donations to a variety of other groups from college funds does not, in President Anderson’s view, fit with that intent.”
Blodgett said non-profits usually received $75 to a few hundred dollars here and there from varying college departments. As a comparison, Blodgett listed the college’s other contributions to the city that remain.
“Along with Carleton College, Saint Olaf will continue with its annual contribution to city in lieu of taxes, a unique tradition that dates back eight decades,” Blodgett said.
Last year, each college paid $73,000. To put that number into some perspective, Boston University paid its municipality about $4 million, Harvard University, about $2 million, Boston College, about $260,000, Northeastern University, about $140,000 and Wentworth Institute (which has about 3,600 students) about $35,000, according to estimates listed in a 2006 Boston Globe article.
Blodgett went on to say that Saint Olaf gives more than just cash.
“Saint Olaf, for example, waives tuition for Northfield High School students who take classes at the college, which annually comes to an in-kind contribution to the community of $100,000,” he said. “Moreover, over half of Saint Olaf’s student body is involved in some type of volunteerism, with an estimated 10,000 hours of community service provided each year. Some of those students volunteer with the non-profits involved.”
Blodgett added Saint Olaf is one of the city’s largest employers. “Saint Olaf pays over $16 million a year to the State of Minnesota in payroll taxes, income that is used, in part, to provide services that we here in Northfield also enjoy,” he said. “Although like all private, non-profit colleges, churches or other schools, Saint Olaf is exempt from state and local property taxes, the college pays over $800,000 a year for municipal services such as sewer, water and waste removal, whether provided by the city or privately contracted.”
Lastly, Blodgett said, “Saint Olaf is a major customer, one that helps sustain a healthy community. Approximately 3,000 Saint Olaf students call Northfield home from September to June. As consumers, they literally pump tens of thousands of dollars into the local economy. Their parents stay in our local hotels, eat in our local restaurants and so forth.”
From a Minnesota Public Radio report written in June: “Rice County Judge Gerald Wolf has lifted some, but not all, of the restrictions on donations given originally to fund St. Olaf College’s radio station WCAL, which the college sold to Minnesota Public Radio in 2004.
The sale angered some donors, who objected to the college using money donated for the radio station.”
The non-profit decision by the president was not about finances. The sums involved are very, very minimal and St. Olaf is not in any budget cutting mode. It was specifically about principle; about writing out a check to other non-profits from money given to the college.
An analogy here is as if the Laura Baker Services Association were to ask their donors for money to sustain their operations and then turned around and wrote a check to the St. Olaf annual fund after seeking that support.”
Update 10/03 1 p.m.
Comment from Joe Hargis, director of public relations at Carleton College: “We don’t have a real black-and-white policy,” Hargis said of the college’s stance on donating to the city’s non-profits. “As Saint Olaf does, our college needs to be very prudent and sensitive any time it considers passing along funds for other non-profits. We’re not able to accommodate all requests, but we try to judge such requests based on a couple of things: Is this something that really benefits our faculty, staff and students? And, is it something most or all of the community can enjoy? For us, if there’s a strong college connection, we can consider that as well.