Letter to the Editor

To the Editors,

Wellesley College’s account of the North 40 sale in the Oct. 2 Townsman contains statements of dubious accuracy. The writers explain the need for the $365 million renovation by asserting that “…62 percent of our buildings…have not been renovated in more than 50 years.” Remarkably, the implied slur on the College’s trustees does not seem to occur to them.  Are we to imagine them standing idle for half a century while the buildings in their charge deteriorated? In fact much if not more was spent on the College’s buildings during this period than is proposed for the present renovation, as I argued in a letter to the summer issue of the Wellesley Magazine (p. 3).  In a reply, the vice president and the provost admitted the figure came from tabulations assembled by Sightlines (a commercial firm assessing campus facilities) based on formulae to calculate redundancy. With these numbers in hand the College proceeded to fabricate a narrative of neglect while ignoring Wellesley’s record of concerned care of its buildings.      

In further justification of the impending sale the College points to the acquisition of “an additional 180 acres of well-situated land — mostly around Lake Waban and directly across from the college on Route 16.” The implication that these purchases compensate for the soon to be sold 46.5 acres of the North 40 is similarly misleading. For the eastern lots bordering Route 16, Rollins is three acres and already in the hands of developers, and Cheever’s 22 acres lie at a distance from the College and are destined for a similar fate. Thus the acquired lands on the east side of Route 16 have no relevance to the College’s future needs. In any case the east location lies on the opposite side of what is now called ‘the west campus’ where the College has seen its major development in the last 40 years.

Elsewhere in the College’s account, the paragraph referring to the gift of the land in the Durant 1873 indenture conveniently omits its founder’s further unambiguous directions in his 1881 will that the North 40 “…be always held used and owned by Wellesley College.” It is useful to recall that the trustees stood by its founder’s wishes when faced a hundred years ago with a much more critical financial crisis caused by the College Hall fire and abjured the notion of asset sale. No such qualms constrain the present Administration. Their asset-stripping intentions need to be examined face on. The same holds for the long term consequences of the sale.

The College ends its account of the North 40 sale by painting a picture of open communication with the Town during the six months since the news became public. While technically true, Town committees and other mortals first learned of the sale on April 23  (the College asked for confidentiality for the preceding month). Massaged timelines are one thing. But they spawn massaged narratives as we learn when we read about the College’s active pursuit “of proposals from conservancy agencies.” The radiant good neighborliness in this generous self-assessment stands in sharp conflict with the account of the chair of the Selectman at the open Town meeting on Sept. 29.   Dan McCauley noted the College’s perfunctory effort on the conservancy front, its denial of granting the Town ‘first refusal’ on the sale, its disregard of pleas for a slowed-down process and admitted the characterization of ‘un-cooperative’ as a general summary of its stance towards the Town. As the Townsman’s Oct. 2 editorial stated, the College’s equivocation about the sale “…has now blown up in [its] face; its reputation as a good neighbor to the town and a potential protector of open space is seriously damaged.”

Peter Fergusson, Feldberg professor of art, emeritus

Mary Lefkowitz ‘57, Mellon professor in the humanities, emerita

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