Donor discussion continues at GV

Students, faculty members share concerns at town hall meeting

By Claire Fodell | 2/23/14 7:30pm


Senior Brandan Bilski. GV / Emily Frye

At Grand Valley State University, donor recognition has recently been a hot topic of discussion. In response to the ongoing debate, the Student Senate held a town hall meeting Thursday to offer students, faculty and administrators a chance to communicate their ideas through direct conversation.

Participants were, for the most part, in agreement about the student body’s appreciation of donors.

Student Senate President Ricardo Benavidez recalled the story of GVSU’s founding to remind students that the university would not have formed without the help of donors. The majority of students who spoke at the forum agreed with Benavidez, saying that donors have done a lot for the advancement of the school. Many mentioned that tuition would be much higher without donors.

General appreciation was about the only point of consensus, though.

Student opinion varied on topics ranging from donor names on buildings to the overall influence of donors on the policies and curricula of GVSU.

“A lot of people feel that (the donors) are a threat influencing our education,” student Lindsey Disler said on behalf of GVSU’s chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops.

Frederick Antczak, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, assured attendants that donors do not influence big decisions he makes regarding curriculum.

In reply to other student comments about the donors’ motives for giving, Antczak pointed out that in Michigan — a state that is still not very competitive with the number of people in higher education — corporate sponsors might have other intentions for their donations than influencing the university structure.

“It’s possible that corporate giving like DTE might not be aimed at (students) at all, but aimed at other outside entities to remind them that for the future economic welfare of the state, we need education,” he said.

Benign intentions of donors did not negate some students’ concerns, though.

Student Senator Anthony Clemons raised a concern about the ways in which GVSU recognizes donors. Clemons said that as a gay student, he feels uncomfortable seeing the DeVos family name on campus because it is one of the largest funders of anti-gay organizations in the country.

“Naming a building after someone who you know stands completely in opposition for everything you stand for and who you are as a person — it does have a negative effect on education because you don’t feel as welcomed as other students do,” Clemons said.

Some other students in attendance said they did not think the name of a building changes its academic integrity.

“I see the naming as advertisements, and I’m fine with advertisements because without them, every student here would owe several thousand dollars to pay for (the library),” Student Senator Andrew Plague said. “I don’t have an extra $3,000 to give for my share of the library.”

Although no definitive student opinion was formed on any matter discussed, participants did offer suggestions as to how GVSU can improve donor relations. Some said that going back to smaller ways of recognizing donors such as bricks or a donor wall would be more appropriate than hanging names over buildings or rooms.

Other students suggested that the history of big-name donors such as William Seidman and Russel Kirkhof be emphasized to students so that they can appreciate more than their financial contributions. Some said that if students have a better understanding of donor history, they might see the naming of buildings as honorable rather than offensive.

Benavidez said he plans to take the main ideas presented in the meeting to administrators who were not in attendance. The town hall meeting was the first of several that Student Senate plans to have over the course of the semester. The next will take place after spring break and will be on the topic of free speech at GVSU.

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