On the Purchase of the Golf Course: A Treatise on Administrative Obligations to the Student Body

Who among you has paused to contemplate the nature of this institution we call home? Surely, Grinnell would not like to think of itself as an ambling ambiguity. This place must have some reason for existing, some purpose to fulfill, and consequently, insofar as it aims to fulfill this purpose, it must have some awareness of that purpose. Indeed, the College does claim to have this awareness. It boasts of its academic rigor and its commitment to social justice. Perhaps you have never paused to speculate over this institution’s function, or its obligations, or whether our College succeeds at satisfying its function, its obligations. But that is dubious. Certainly you have taken at least a moment—in between class, or in the few minutes that precede your nightly slumber—to entertain this most important of questions. And, undoubtedly, you will agree that among the multifarious obligations this establishment has, it has an inexorable commitment to its students; not only to your education, or to our housing or safety, but also to our well-being. Would it be presumptuous to assume that there can be none among you who will disagree? One should hope not.

And on this score it must be conceded, with heartfelt disappointment and frustration, that our school is failing us. Recently the President—our President Kington, who, as we just agreed, must remain committed to us—decided to spend the funds at his disposal to purchase a golf course. Alas, awareness of a goal is not sufficient to prevent all aimless ambling. And how could we understand this purchase otherwise? In what way will this decision benefit us? How could it contribute to our well-being?

Our Treasurer reassures us that the money for the purchase comes from a reserve fund that could not be spent on resources for students via the very stipulations of our school’s constitution, and that ultimately, this particular reserve fund is separate from the student endowment and all other funds reserved for student resources, leaving them intact.

But such reassurances collapse under the most meager scrutiny. Let us take them from last to first. Let us suppose that the Treasurer or President had enacted this purchase via the means of a completely separate fund from those dedicated to us, the student body. We are plagued by a number of inhibitions to our well-being. We cannot access areas on campus dedicated to our safety, like the SRC (Stonewall Resource Center), let alone our very own residence halls. We do not find on this campus the resources necessary to maintain a diverse body where we can all, no matter our cultural or financial heritage, flourish. And, with the recent decision by the College to rescind its commitment to the students of the New Orleans Posse, the very ideal of a diverse student body has been significantly undermined. Worst of all, there are many of us who exist in such despair that the only relief we can imagine is the immediate cessation of our lives. Some of us who harbor these dark fantasies have even tried to realize them.

Here I must break away from the general way of speaking I have been maintaining thus far and interject my own personal testimony. I must do this because I would hate for anyone to think that I am exploiting those who suffer this terrible burden. It would be shameful for me to exploit another’s suffering, even for the purpose of fighting on their behalf. But I need not turn to any foreigner’s experience on this matter. I too have stood on the precipice of that tremendous abyss. I have lived months, perhaps even years (I cannot be certain) in which, daily, my most passionate desire was my own death. SHACS was of little help to me. Almost immediately I was offered medication. Implication: “We haven’t the time to speak to you, to understand you. Have this prescription instead, and move along. Next!” I could not even confess my struggle to my most intimate friends and family. How was I to confess it to such an indifferent stranger who, within the year, would depart from Grinnell? I’ve heard too many accounts that reflect my own from my acquaintances here at Grinnell. In a state of such infinite anguish, it is no consolation to be told that although the Strategic Reserve had money, it could not be spent on better mental health resources because it belonged to a separate  fund. It is an admission of the most malignant apathy.

Let us expound the contradiction as clearly as possible. There are grave predicaments that face us. These predicaments could be ameliorated with the institution of new resources on our campus, or the augmentation of those resources already manifested here. For example, we could move the SRC to an accessible location, or we could hire dedicated psychiatric support to bolster our mental health resources, etc. To enact these projects would, of course, require monetary funding. The Board of Trustees and the President had such monetary funding at their disposal—it does not matter from where this money came or to which reserve fund it belonged, not when such grave crises confront us. The President and Treasurer had a choice on how to spend those funds. Among their choices would have been the choice to spend them on us, the students to which they are irrevocably committed. They chose to spend them on a golf course.

A greater insult could hardly be imagined, but it would seem that our administration has a flourishing imagination indeed. For as a second defense they submit to us that our very own constitution did in fact prevent them from spending that money on those resources we desperately need. It is not necessary to elucidate here the profound futility of any clause in our school’s very constitution that would impede our administration from alleviating our miseries. Ultimately, the aforementioned clause proved nonexistent upon careful scrutiny of our constitution. The relief that we feel at this revelation is matched only by the indignation that one of our administration’s proposed apologies should prove illusory (and, should it have proven otherwise, it would have been wholly worthy of our contempt).

We now must concede the superfluity of the challenge with which we began this exasperated monologue. It was never our intent to determine the nature of Grinnell College. That was merely a friendly coercion to our actual purpose. We felt it necessary to remind ourselves of our value and the inevitable obligation that our administration has to us as a result of this undeniable value. Moreover, we felt it imperative to remind our administration of that contract which binds them to us, and that commits them to cultivate and maintain our well-being. Consequently, we conclude with a new challenge–this time to our Treasurer. Dear Treasurer, we demand that you answer us, honestly this time, as to how you could possibly think this decision was justified while such pressing predicaments plague us. Further, we hope to establish a more transparent relationship with you and the administration at large.

How else can we possibly govern ourselves if you refuse to allow us this opportunity? How can our student government take appropriate action when they are basing their judgements on misinformation?

How else can we rest assured that you are staying faithful to your inescapable obligation to us, the Grinnell student body?



  1. Where’s your commentary about SGA using their $90,000 fund to possibly buy fuzzy blankets for all students?

  2. Jacob Sagrans '09

    February 27, 2016 at 3:23 PM

    I’d like to add a bit more context to this as one of the student co-leaders of the Stonewall Coalition (StoneCo) in 2006–2007, when the Stonewall Resource Center (SRC) move to Younker Pit. In the beginning of the academic year, the SRC moved from Loose Pit to the newly built Joe Rosenfield Center (JRC). The SRC was then in an accessible location but there were problems with the new space. Specifically, the space was far too small for the large number of students in StoneCo and the other groups associated with the SRC, and there was next to no space for the SRC’s large library, even though we had one of the largest spaces of any student organization in the JRC. The inadequate size of the space had to do with the planning of the building, which stretched back to the early ’90s, when fewer students were in StoneCo and the SRC library was much smaller.

    Given the problems with the SRC space in the JRC, I, the other leaders of queer student groups, and the student leaders of the SRC pushed the administration (especially Tom Crady) to move us to a larger location. After much back and forth, we were presented with two options: move to Younker Pit (which had been vacated by the campus radio station when it moved into the JRC) or stay put. We picked the former option, but expressed concern about the lack of accessibility. At the time (spring 2007), Crady told us that the admin would look into the feasibility of retrofitting the space to make it wheelchair accessible.

    This retrofitting obviously never happened. I don’t know for sure why not, but I do know that making an older building accessible can be far more complicated than simply adding a ramp and elevator. Often for major renovations buildings have to be brought up to current code. Do the ventilation and heating system of Younker reflect 2016 Iowa building codes? Do the fire escapes and fire suppression systems? Probably not. Is there asbestos in the building that would have to be removed? Quite possibly. Also, if the building is on any sort of historical registry (I would suspect many of the older Grinnell buildings are) all this retrofitting would likely have to be done without making any change to the exterior appearance of the building. This may simply be impossible.

    By buying the golf course and its facilities, perhaps the college will now have more options of accessible buildings for student resources like the SRC (or the grounds on which to build them). In the meantime, I think there is a lot the student leaders of the SRC and StoneCo could be doing to make their events and services as accessible as possible. Does the SRC/StoneCo have an accessibility policy? Is there a procedure by which someone with a disability who wants to attend an event can request it be moved to an accessible location? Is the catalogue of the SRC library online and are SRC/StoneCo leaders/volunteers/employees willing to bring materials from the library to people who cannot access it?

  3. William Crosby

    March 4, 2016 at 8:45 AM

    I heard that one of the reasons for the purchase is because the golf course is next to the observatory. If somebody else bought it, they could put in housing or something which would significantly increase the light next to the observatory making it useless. Don’t know if that is true or not. Probably need input from physicists and city planners to check on that

    Also, it is possible that, with the change in status from a private membership club to a public club, the golf course could become an income generator for the college. I have no idea if that would be true. Probably need input from economists and the Chamber of Commerce to check on that.

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