October 23, 2017
Read this if you want to see how an uplifting story about librarians donating money can become depressing af
by Susan Rella
A little over a year ago, we gave you the feel-good story of a penny-pinching university librarian who bequeathed the entirety of his fastidious savings—over $4 million—to his alma-mater-cum-employer, the University of New Hampshire. And what MobyLives gives, dear readers, MobyLives taketh away. Prepare to be really pissed off.
As we reported last year, Robert Morin, a graduate of UNH and a forty-nine-year employee of the university’s library, left his entire estate to the university upon his death in March 2015 at age seventy-seven, with $100,00 earmarked for the Dimond Library where he worked. UNH promptly put a cool million dollars of the bequest toward a video scoreboard for its new football stadium — citing, as unasked-for validation, the fact that Morin had become a massive football fan at the very end of his life.
Which is sweet, and great… if it’s true. But as Craig Fehrman writes in an absolutely amazing piece for Deadspin, UNH manufactured the football story just so they could guiltlessly shovel money into their sports program. While there had been a $25 million upgrade scheduled for the football stadium since 2014, plans for the high-def video scoreboard were shitcanned when UNH ran out of money. Until, hallelujah Hail Mary to the end zone something something football, Morin passed away.
As Fehrman writes, Morin’s bequest was “an enormous sum, of course, but more important, it was an unrestricted sum… In a recently completed five-year fundraising campaign, UNH collected only $9 million in unrestricted funds, and almost half of that total came from Robert Morin.”
The optics on President Mark Huddleston’s breakdown of how to spend the $4 million—$1 million for the scoreboard, $2.5 million for the career center, and the earmarked $100,000 to the library, with the rest to be determined later—are absolutely horrible. Fehrman cites internal emails that show administrators understood that giving only four percent of a librarian’s gift to the actual library looked pretty goddamn disgusting. That Morin was a football fan helped mitigate the ew factor.
But here’s where things get gross. Newly released emails, as Kevin Landrigan reports in the New Hampshire Union Leader, show that Huddleston had decided to use part of Morin’s gift for the scoreboard by September 2015 — just six months after Morin’s death, and a full eleven months before the press release extolling Morin’s avid football interest. In fact, the university had no idea that Morin had any connection to football before they’d decided on the new scoreboard. As Fehrman reports, “The librarian’s fandom had absolutely nothing to do with the scoreboard, but through a careful and shameless juxtaposition, UNH implied that it had.” Fehrman goes into great detail about exactly why Morin is more than just a football prop; seriously, please read the full article, as it’s a great piece of writing.
Luckily, people are pissed — particularly alumni. Kathleen Elkins compiled some great angst for a CNBC article on the scoreboard; this bit of gold from alum Kristine Newhall really sticks out:
“I am not inherently opposed to some of the money going to the football program. I am opposed to it going to a scoreboard which, in the age of planned obsolescence, will be out of date in 5? 10? Years. Use it to endow a scholarship for a player who wants to go to grad school maybe…. Pay it forward; make it meaningful.”
And in this Business Insider piece from last year, Abby Jackson and Rebecca Harrington quote alum Claire Cortese, laying out exactly why this feels so slimy: “Ultimately, the school’s administrative decision to spend a quarter of Morin’s generous donation on an inconsequential trinket for the athletic department is a complete disgrace to the spirit and memory of Robert Morin.”
(Sidenote: For more on how universities sometimes misspend money—say, when their sports teams stand to gain—may we recommend Jacques Berlinerblau’s Campus Confidential?)
So, to recap: not only did UNH give the bare minimum of Morin’s legacy to the institution to which he had devoted the majority of his life, and not only did they spend a quarter of his money on something which will depreciate in value faster than your new iPhone — they also insisted on demeaning the memory of a selfless man, who pinched pennies for years to save up the four million dollars he donated, with a false persona, a dedication to a pastime he didn’t care about — just so they could see their football scores in beautiful hi-def, best-available-resolution, guilt-free glory.
Susan Rella is the managing editor at Melville House, and a former bookseller.