A Letter To PUC Alumni
PACIFIC UNION COLLEGE . . SELLING ITS HERITAGE
Almost a hundred years ago, Ellen White and her colleagues found Angwin, a peaceful health resort, and recognized it as an ideal rural setting for a college. Today, it remains a tranquil natural environment, described in the current PUC Strategic Plan as "2,000 acres of forested and agricultural land ...this breath-taking environment, conducive to learning, has nurtured students for more than 90 years." Even Wikipedia calls our College a "serene, rural setting" in the "beautiful nested hills above Napa Valley."
This breath-taking environment is PUC's endowment.
Amazingly, it may soon be gone. Once lost, it can never be regained.
This is a matter of stewardship. This land was bought by our forefathers to assure a rural environment in which students could learn and worship God. They did not buy a few acres on which to build a few buildings; They bought 1,600 acres to preserve an environment, and the environment was part of the institution's educational "mission." PUC was founded with the counsel of Ellen White. It was not built in a subdivision or by a shopping center.
The founders of PUC trusted their successors to preserve this environment as a vital component of their values and religious ideals. For more than nine decades, this trust was kept and the succeeding hands that guided the College cherished the land and environment as their forefathers did. The church trusted the College to cherish its spiritual heritage. Parents trusted PUC to provide the solace and peace that had shaped their own youth in earlier decades.
A new idea of stewardship has arrived at PUC. The love for rural Angwin which has blessed PUC for a century has been replaced with the notion that acres of land surrounding the campus is nonessential. This is a breath-taking departure in leadership.
1. THE SKY NOT FALLING. PUC will not go out of business if there is no sale of this land. The College's financial situation goes up and down, but even the very unusual shortfall of nearly $1 million in a single bad year will not break a $40-million budget.
2. PUC IS NOT UNDER-ENDOWED. PUC does not have a small endowment. In fact, it is larger per student (by 50%) and in total than that of Walla Walla. La Sierra (which is considered well endowed by sister colleges) has an endowment of only $15,000 per student, according to McClain Publications.
3. The sale of lands is NOT ASSURED A PROFIT. The financial benefits of the developers schemes are very unclear. The College apparently believes that sale of all the "nonessential" land will add $127 million (including $27 million from the sale of the college airport) to the college pie. But developing real estate is high cost and high risk. And the boom in California real estate has busted. This is all very speculative. This is a poor time to sell land.
4. NOT ABOUT ENDOWMENT. An endowment is a gift to an institution that produces a return for the institution. Most of the College's property was given to the College with the intention that it would produce both income from agriculture and a rural mountain top environment - PUC's greatest asset. An endowment is to be preserved for perpetuity. That is the whole point. Real income may be used, but income can be earned from land as well as from a bank account. And the land offers inflation protection a one-shot sale does not. THE COLLEGE LANDS ARE THE COLLEGE'S REAL ENDOWMENT.
According to independent appraisers, the College's land could earn a lease income of $2200-$2500 per acres, RIGHT NOW, RISK FREE. And the College would retain ownership and control of the land. It might even earn more with proper management by the college or other professionals.
5. ONCE GONE, THE LAND WILL BE LOST FOREVER.
So why sell? One answer is so that it will be easier to spend the capital and that appears to have already happened to the proceeds from the acres of agricultural land that has recently been sold. Spending the capital diminishes the endowment, rather than increases it. The proposed scheme is a threat to PUC's future not only from the destruction of the tranquil mountaintop that has been intrinsic to PUC's success, but from making the endowment liquid and spending it.
It can always be rationalized that spending money on this department or that capital improvement will enhance the marketability of the college producing greater income. But if our forefathers had conducted their stewardship in this fashion, there would be no PUC today. Their expenditures would have long gone . . and PUC would be gone.
While the financial benefits of the land-sale schemes for PUC are murky, the resulting increase in crime and congestion for the community of Angwin is clear. Whether PUC succeeds or fails, the security and tranquility of rural Angwin would be lost forever. The New Angwin we would find in 10 years would not be recognizable. No matter what color of pastel developers use to sell their scheme, the folly of planting a subdivision in a rural community tied to civilization with an 8-mile, winding two-lane mountain road is self-evident . The Napa County General Plan envisioned Angwin with a .9% annual growth. The PUC scheme represents 50 to 100 years of this growth. Unbelievable.
This changing course of the stewardship of PUC, in short, concerns many. The results will be disastrous. Alumni may seriously re-consider their generosity to a College which is not cherishing it heritage. Parents may re-consider where they send their children to college. The uniqueness will be gone. The mission will be compromised. The years of sacrifice will have been in vain.
Once PUC's endowment is gone, it is gone forever. And the decision is on the doorstep.
* * * * *
I took a walk recently through some of the land that the college plans to sell. It is a goldmine of cash for someone who will manage it properly. The founders showed great wisdom. The current bunch seems to be devoid of such traits. I used to admire what SDA schools are about but not any more. What does it take to wake them up?
* * * * *
Land is a gold mine. in the Napa Valley. Endowment management companies for universities are buying land all the time as they see this as an enormous potential for income. PUC is sitting on that pot of gold and rather than let it be managed by experts it chooses to sell the gold for pennies on the furture dollars it could bring. The college founders showed the insight opposite of the current leadership. Perhaps the founders were listening to HIM who knew better.
* * * * *
I have been told that PUCs indicate the land they are selling is none essential to the college and will not be used. My uncle had one leg amputated. Why not have both legs amputated as they are not essential to life? The fact that they don't plan to use the land for some productive use is short sighted. I find this very lame. If they sell it I am sure the person buying will use it. The profits will go to them instead.
* * * * *
I suspect that we are seeing the initial stages of a mental state known as the "edifice complex". Rather than being educational statesman we find that educational bureaucrats often times have a insatiable need to build monuments to themselves. Fancy libraries, malls, entrances, complexes, something which can have their picture in the lobby or better yet a statute.
When was the last time you interviewed a successful alumnus about what it was about a university that made a long lasting contribution to their success. Did they mentioned the awesome dining commons, or the teacher in Biology or Entomology that took them out into the real lab of nature to inspire them? Real education is more than great classrooms, a shiny new postage stamp size campus, or even a listing in U.S. News and World Report.
My vote is to keep Pacific Union College rural.
* * * * *
I hear rumors about a land trust for some of the college property. This is certainly better than a sale but the college would certainly be better off to manage what they have responsibly. Don't understand their being so hellbent on selling their real endowment.
* * * * *
It is a relief to know that the college is putting over 800 acres into a land trust. This is certainly better than what they were promoting. At least we will still have the trails and forests to enjoy. It will help to keep Angwin Rural.