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Amherst College drive raises $502 million despite downturn

Amherst College graduates walk in the processional during commencement Sunday on the college's quadrangle.

Amherst College graduates walk in the processional during commencement Sunday on the college's quadrangle. JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

The college last week announced that the “Lives of Consequence” campaign raised $502 million, outpacing the $425 million goal set when it was launched in October 2008.

More than $138 million was made in anonymous donations, with separate donations of $100 million and $25 million, and 47 percent of the total brought in is unrestricted, meaning there are no strings attached to how it is used.

Amherst College President Biddy Martin said in a statement that this runs counter to a trend in higher education philanthropy, where donations often have specific purposes, such as for buildings or programs.

“The difference here is that many of our alumni and donors are hewing to an older tradition, which is generosity without the recognition that many people seek,” Martin said. “It’s a form of commitment, trust and modesty that is really worth some attention.”

Besides the college’s no-loan financial aid program and ensuring racial and ethnic diversity, money from the campaign will support faculty and student research and enhanced alumni and parent engagement.

“The campaign was not only launched during a challenging time, but it succeeded during the worst downturn since the Great Depression,” Martin said.

College spokesman Peter Rooney said the campaign succeeded in spite of beginning during the economic downturn, when global markets plunged and the college’s endowment, which was valued at around $1.7 billion at the start of the campaign, lost about one-quarter of its value.

The college will celebrate the drive Friday and Saturday with a “You Did It!” event. All 22,000 alumni, as well as current students, parents, faculty and staff have been invited.

The celebration will include a keynote address titled “Education in the Liberal Arts and Sciences: Glancing Backward, Imagining Forward,” by Howard Gardner, a trustee and professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, on Friday at 4:30 p.m. in Johnson Chapel.

There will also be a conversation on affirmative action presented by Amherst alumni Saturday from 10:45 a.m. to noon in Johnson Chapel and a reading and portrait dedication featuring Richard Wilbur, former U.S. poet laureate and college lecturer, Saturday from 1:30 to 2:45 p.m. in Johnson Chapel.

The campaign was led by chief advancement officer Megan Morey, her staff and the Campaign Executive Committee chaired by alumni and trustees Brian J. Conway, Hope E. Pascucci and Jide J. Zeitlin.

Morey said the campaign allowed the college to broaden access to Amherst, enhance the curriculum and physical campus and foster greater engagement between the college and the community in western Massachusetts.

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