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UNH's new scoreboard rankles many

By KIMBERLEY HAAS
Sunday News Correspondent

September 17. 2016 8:08PM
Fans mingle under the new video scoreboard at Wildcat Stadium in UNH's home opener. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)

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  • Do you support UNH's decision to spend $1M from a frugal librarian's $4M bequest to the school on a football stadium jumbotron?
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  • Ambivalent
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DURHAM - Amid growing outrage, officials at the University of New Hampshire are defending their decision to spend $1 million left to them by a frugal librarian on a video scoreboard for the new Wildcat Stadium.

Last month, UNH announced that Robert Morin, a cataloguer at the university's Dimond Library, had left $4 million to the school when he died at the age of 77 in March 2015. For nearly 50 years, Morin worked in the library, drove an older vehicle and ate frozen dinners as he amassed his wealth.

House Speaker Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, issued a statement Friday, saying that as a member of the University System of New Hampshire Board of Trustees he is concerned about how the decision to spend $1 million on the scoreboard was made.

"When a library employee spends his entire working life saving money to leave to his alma mater, I would have expected that there would have been a carefully crafted plan to see that the money was spent wisely. It seems to me that a scoreboard, which will have a relatively short lifespan, is not the way to honor 50 years of service and savings," Jasper said.

Erika Mantz, UNH's director of media relations, released a statement from the University a few hours later, saying, "Yes, we have heard from people who disagree with how the gift was used. We respect and acknowledge that feedback but it does not change our decision....

"Historically UNH has invested very little in athletics facilities, and it showed," Mantz said. "It took 80 years to expand and renovate our 1936 facility into Wildcat Stadium - a superb, immersive experience for students and others. UNH now has a stadium that, while very modest compared to others in the country, is one every New Hampshire resident can be proud of."

She also pointed out the majority of Morin's gift "will be used to directly support students with the launch of an expanded and centrally-located student career and professional success center."

But Jasper told the New Hampshire Union Leader the money could have been used for scholarships. And he said he has a hard time swallowing UNH's expenditure when the town of Hudson is debating whether to spend $1.5 million on a new fire station.

"UNH is spending $1 million to tell us what the score is," Jasper said.

When university officials announced how they would spend the Morin donation on Aug. 30, they said Morin's only request was that $100,000 be earmarked to create scholarships for work-study students, support staff members who continue their studies in library science and for upgrades in one of the library's multi-media rooms. UNH President Mark Huddleston said $2.5 million will help launch the expanded career center for students and alumni.

Then officials announced $1 million was set aside to pay for a video scoreboard at the school's new $25 million football stadium.

Mantz said that in the last 15 months of Morin's life, he started watching football games while living in a Durham assisted-living center. He mastered the rules, names of players and teams.

The high-definition 30-by-50-foot scoreboard was revealed prior to the Wildcats' home opener on Sept. 10,

It didn't take long for people to express their opinions online about how the university could have spent the money, and last Monday the issue was raised at a meeting of UNH's Faculty Senate. They chose not to take an official position on the scoreboard.

Gov. Maggie Hassan reacted on Friday, saying there were more appropriate uses for the money. She said it should have been used for the library and career center, the new science building university officials want, or to hold down the cost of tuition.

"It is concerning and perplexing that the University of New Hampshire decided to use part of this generous donation on an expensive new scoreboard," Hassan said in a statement."I am proud of our bipartisan work to hold down the cost of higher education, including freezing tuition at the university system for the first time in 25 years, and I strongly encourage the university's leadership to be more thoughtful when determining how to use donations such as this," Hassan said.

Hassan is also one of the 27 members of the University System of New Hampshire's Board of Trustees. But Hassan and Jasper did not have a say in how the money was directed because the use of donations made to a specific institution are determined by officials at that school.

UNH posted Mantz's statement to its Facebook page on Friday. By 7:30 p.m., more than 900 people had reacted. Almost 600 of them were angry; 532 had left a comment, many of them saying they would no longer donate to UNH.

Mark Knights of Exeter posted: "I 'respect and acknowledge' UNH's feedback, but it does not change my decision as an alumnus not to donate to UNH in the future as a result of this ridiculous episode."

But alumnus Brendan R.H. Jones of Manchester defended the decision to invest in "badly needed" upgrades to the school's athletic facilities. "Thank you for investing to edge closer to the 21st century," Jones wrote.

Joel Kost, who graduated from UNH in 2014, and is living in Westford, Mass., told the New Hampshire Union Leader he remembers Morin. The five-foot tall man who weighed about 100 pounds frequently smoked a pipe outside of Dimond Library. Kost says the school should have considered donating more to the library, where Morin's co-workers were his family, and his job gave him tremendous satisfaction.

"I saw him every day," Kost said. "He just looked very content."

Edward Mullen, who was Morin's financial advisor and friend for 40 years, said Morin was content with his decision to not restrict the funds he planned to bequeath to his alma mater even as his millions grew. Morin loved UNH and being a part of its community, he said.

Mullen said even though Morin wasn't a huge sports fan, he did enjoy memorizing facts about football as he was dying of cancer. It gave him comfort.

The only thing that would have upset Morin about the scoreboard is the controversy it has stirred, Mullen said.

Mullen added that Morin's money was used in a way that everyone in the state can enjoy.

"He's got something that's a significant part of the facility and I think he'd be proud," he said.


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