UNH to spend thrifty librarian's money on a $1 million football scoreboard

The University of New Hampshire was criticized after saying it plans to spend part of a $4 million librarian's bequest on a new video scoreboard for the football team. 

Nati Harnik/AP
Flowers are placed at the 27-yard line by the visiting Oregon team in memory of Nebraska punter Sam Foltz (27), who was killed in a car crash last summer, before an NCAA college football game in Lincoln, Neb., on Saturday.

Thrifty librarian Robert Morin made headlines after he donated his $4 million estate to his alma mater and employer, the University of New Hampshire. Now, the university faces criticism for deciding to use $1 million of his donation to buy an electronic football scoreboard.

Critics say that it is a misuse of money that could be better used for academic or library development purposes. A UNH official says that the plans for the donation respect Mr. Morin’s wishes.

“Unrestricted gifts give the university the ability to use the funds for our highest priorities and emerging opportunities," said UNH vice president of advancement Deborah Dutton in a press release. "This is an extraordinary gift that comes at a critical time for launching a number of initiatives that are only able to move forward because of his generosity.”

Of the $4 million he donated, Morin only specified that $100,000 go to the University’s library, his employer for nearly 50 years. That money will be used to grant scholarships to library work-study students, renovate a multimedia room in the library, and allow librarians to continue their education.

A further $2.5 million will go towards the creation of a career center for students, and the remaining $400,000 is yet to be put to use.

"As an alumnus, Bob would be pleased to know that a majority of his estate, $2.5 million, will help to launch an expanded and centrally located career center for our students and alumni," said UNH President Mark Huddleston in a press release. "We are committed to providing the resources needed to ensure every student achieves professional success and Bob’s gift will play a major role in that effort.”

The university also noted that Morin had spent a substantial amount of the last year or more of his life watching UNH’s football team on television and learning the players’ names.

Still, critics of the school’s decision to buy a scoreboard, say it furthers the institutional sin of spending more money on athletics than academics.

They say that while Morin may have enjoyed watching sports, he had dedicated his life to academics and librarianship - this was a man who had read every single book (besides children’s books and cook books) published between 1930 and 1938. He was working towards 1940 before he passed on.

“The university clearly seems to think that it makes sense for the sports department to receive ten times the amount that Morin’s own department is receiving, even after spending $25 million on a stadium renovation,” UNH graduate Claire Cortese wrote in a blog post. “The school also just recently spent almost $2 million on a new student athlete center, and $4.5 million to build a new outdoor pool.”

It is often difficult to disentangle the factors that draw students to one university over another. For some students, academics reign supreme. For others, a thriving football team is a prerequisite for an engaging college atmosphere. But only at a two dozen schools around the country, do athletics programs take in more money than they draw out of university coffers, according the the NCAA.

Yet while studies show that at most schools, athletics do not take in nearly enough to offset spending, many students aren't going to libraries for their books. Just nine percent of students using university libraries for their books now, according to a study by Project Information Literacy. Most students now use the facilities as a quiet spot for online research and to print out papers.

The UNH scoreboard controversy prompted a wide array of spending suggestions. For example, Ms. Cortese suggests that the $1 million could have been better spent on scholarships for students, research grants, and student meal plans. Others wrote on the school’s Facebook page that they money could have gone towards procuring more computers for the library.

Although university officials are not sure yet whether or not Morin will be commemorated by name on the scoreboard or the career center, school officials say that there will be a bench near to the library dedicated to his memory.

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