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University to buy $1-million football scoreboard with thrifty librarian’s money, outraging critics

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 9/16/2016 Ben Guarino
Robert Morin © Courtesy of the University of New Hampshire Robert Morin

Robert Morin had his quirks: a regular breakfast of Fritos and a Coke; a refusal to give up on the 1992 Plymouth that he drove to his job as a library cataloger; the 18-year span, from 1979 to 1997, during which he watched more than 22,000 movies — an average of about three a day. Morin read in chronological order every book published in the United States between 1930 and 1938, excepting only textbooks, children’s books and cookbooks.

Such habits allowed the librarian to live thriftily. He spent little on food or clothes. When he passed, at age 77 in March 2015, it was revealed he had accumulated an unusually impressive sum: $4 million in savings, as The Washington Post reported. He bequeathed it all to his employer and alma mater, the University of New Hampshire. The university announced the donation at the end of August, once it was approved by probate court.

But in the weeks since this cockle-warming tale of philanthropy surfaced, other University of New Hampshire graduates cooled on the donation. The way the university will spend its new cash, these critics feel, is not in keeping with Morin’s lifelong love for books.

Morin was committed to the library and to the school, which he graduated from in 1963. He worked as a cataloger in the university’s Dimond Library for almost 50 years, and was a common presence on campus.

The area near the library, in particular, was his preferred habitat. “He smoked a pipe, and he was outside a lot in the courtyard in the front of the library, and he loved to talk to students,” Erika Mantz, a representative for the University of New Hampshire, told The Post’s Sarah Larimer. “And he was very committed to the student workers who worked in our main library.”

As Mantz wrote to the Huffington Post in an email, “His whole life was the library.”

It was natural, then, that he would specify a gift to the building where he spent so many years writing DVD descriptions and cataloging sheet music. Of the $4 million, $100,000 was earmarked for the Dimond Library. Outside, a bench now bears a plaque with his name.

The vast majority of the donation will be spent elsewhere at the university: $2.5 million to expand the school’s student career center. And $1 million, a quarter of the bequeathed money, on a video scoreboard at the school’s Wildcat Stadium.

To the university, that construction honors an interest Morin found late in life. “In the last 15 months of his life, Morin lived in an assisted living center where he started watching football games on television, mastering the rules and names of the players and teams,” the school wrote in a news release announcing the donation.

To others, an expensive stadium scoreboard is at odds with a frugal man who frequently microwaved his dinners. A scathing response, penned by UNH graduate Claire Cortese and cited by Inside Higher Ed, tore into the administration’s decision:

“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,” Cortese wrote. Cortese lamented the funds directed toward the stadium during a time when, she said, the school lacked sufficient parking and its photography darkroom lacked sufficient water.

More critics took to the university’s Facebook to express their discontent. Prioritizing a stadium over a library at the school, as commenter put it, is like “Dante’s Ninth Level of hell in case you’ve forgotten — or more likely never knew to begin with.”

In her Title IX Blog, Kristine Newhall wrote, “as an alumna of the University of New Hampshire, as a scholar of sports, as an educator and advocate for education, I am disappointed in the university’s choice to spend $1 million of a $4 million donation to a scoreboard for the new football stadium.”

Campus athletics have become a point of contention as college tuition continues to rise faster than inflation. Several universities around the country now charge mandatory fees to support athletic departments,  The Post reported in November 2015. The biggest university athletics programs can generate huge revenue, but also spend large sums on expanding facilities, coaches, staff and other expenses.

“Another million lost in the football arms race,” Newhall wrote. “Wasted by an institution trying to be something it is not—a big-time football school.”

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