The month of March featured both unprecedented success and scathing criticism for the Yale men’s basketball team. Weeks later, the potential impact on incoming alumni donations remains unclear: if the team’s historic tournament run could lead to a surge in giving, or if its sexual misconduct controversy could lower donations instead.
Just as the team secured its first March Madness berth in 54 years, it also found itself answering questions about the expulsion of former captain Jack Montague for sexual misconduct. The convergence of the two storylines brought significant national attention — both positive and negative — to the basketball program and to Yale as a whole. While alumni at times debated whether the University administration handled the controversy correctly, they were largely uncertain about whether either headline would translate to any shift in donation levels.
“It has been a topic that people have been talking about a lot, and more clarity and resolution would be helpful for alums,” said Yale Hockey Association President Daryl Jones ’98, who said his group has had recurring conversations about the Montague situation. “But in the hockey perspective, not any negative support or people backing out.”
He added that the Montague topic did not come up at the group’s last meeting and was never a “serious discussion” among board members. While he noted alumni’s desire for more information, he added that it was unlikely Yale could have reacted any differently to the events given potential legal implications.
Director of Athletics Development Alison Cole ’99 said there is still no updated development data that could show the impact of the national attention the men’s basketball team received earlier this semester. On March 27, Cole said the athletics department had “recently” sent out a post-tournament appeal to alumni, but that the department would need at least one full month before measuring the results.
An alumnus who wished to remain anonymous because of the controversial nature of the topic said many in his community were “uneasy” after both the basketball controversy and campus protests about racial injustice last fall. But he was unsure what the events might mean in terms of donations. He questioned how Yale could raise money with enthusiasm if alumni were not confident about what was going on at the school.
“It has been a very eventful year for Yale in the national news, and I just think there are a lot of alums who are just shaking their heads and asking what’s going on,” the alumnus said.
Jones also described a sense of confusion among the alumni community.
“It’s no question [March’s controversy] is something people are talking about across the board,” he said. “I think, on the one hand, everyone has a lot of confidence and belief in Yale, its leaders and the institution, but on the other hand there are a lot of questions. It feels like a lot of things have not been answered.”
Arthur Segal ’69, who serves as secretary for the class of 1969, said he does not expect donations to the University to be impacted, as he did not feel that the controversy surrounding Montague’s dismissal had been broadly communicated to alumni. He said he only learned of it while watching NCAA Tournament games, adding that many alumni likely came across it the same way.
Segal contrasted the basketball controversies with last semester’s campus protests. He said last fall’s events in the wake of a controversial email from Silliman Associate Master Erika Christakis generated stronger responses from the alumni community and may have had a larger impact on donations.
“The recent Silliman College story embodied a different level of concern for many, and the responses were more dramatic,” Segal said. “Campus sexual assault is a concern for all of us and the prevalent feeling will likely be support of firm action.”
Though he did not speak directly to the Montague incident, Tony Lavely ’64 said he believes any negative publicity for Yale has a negative impact on donations. Conversely, he said, positive news like athletic success or high investment returns can spur alumni giving.
Still, Lavely noted that alumni who react most extremely have often not been among the most generous.
“Very often I find that the people who are the first to say ‘I’m never going to give again’ haven’t given ever,” Lavely said.