By George Leef
Many successful Americans think that they have some moral obligation to “give back” some of their wealth to the college or university from which they graduated. Maybe they have fond memories of their years on campus; maybe they think that higher education in general needs and deserves support; maybe they hardly think about it at all, but just write a check each time the school comes begging.
Stop and think before you donate again. You may be setting yourself up for an unpleasant surprise.
Consider the case of Bob Garthwait, a graduate of Gettysburg College. In this February 23 Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, Professor Crispin Sartwell relates his story. Back in 1980, when a student, Garthwait participated in a theme party. The theme was the classic 60’s TV comedy “Hogan’s Heroes” and Garthwait came as one of the prison guards, wearing a German army uniform with a swastika arm band.
Just recently, a photo taken at that party surfaced when a student noticed it in the 1980 college yearbook. Evidently, the student knew that Garthwait had become one of the school’s trustees and also a big donor – he had endowed a “leadership center” on campus. He or she brought the photo to the attention of a faculty member, Stephen Stern, professor of Judaic Studies. He in turn brought it to the attention of the college’s administration.
Garthwait was pressured to resign from the college board of trustees. In announcing his leaving, he abjectly apologized to the forces of political correctness: “My sincere hope is that our current students will learn from my poor judgment of 38 years ago and be more thoughtful than I was about the impact of their actions on others,” he wrote.
Would the school just leave it at that, or would Gettysburg “progressives” kick a good man when he was down? If you guessed the latter, you’re right.
College president Janet Morgan Riggs declared, “Anti-Semitism clearly contradicts our values as an institution today, as it did when this photo was taken.” But there was no anti-Semitism at all. Hogan’s Heroes was a comedy about a POW camp. The Germans were always getting outwitted by the prisoners. There was nothing in the least offensive about it. Neither the show nor the party had anything to do with the Holocaust.
Unfortunately, our Social Justice Warriors never stop looking for excuses to attack people if they can find the slightest excuse for doing so, no matter how absurd and far-fetched.
Moreover, the professor is demanding that the college return Garthwait’s donations, saying, “The longer we hang on to the money, the longer and more conflicted the story becomes.” But there is really no conflict. Garthwait’s money is just as innocent as was the party back in 1980.
I’m betting that the school draws the “progressive” line at giving back Garthwait’s money. Virtue signaling is fun, but only when it’s costless.
The story of Bob Garthwait is unique, but people should keep in mind that when they give money to colleges and universities, they are in all likelihood helping to fund leftist faculty and administrators who utterly dominate our institutions. Unless you carefully target a donation so it supports only a non-politicized part of your alma mater, you should give your money elsewhere.