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To give or not to give? That's the question some college donors may be asking themselves in the wake of recent lawsuits. A handful of schools, including Yeshiva U., Allan Hancock College, the U. of Alabama and the U. of California, Irvine, are taking donors who renege on their donation promises to court to collect the dough.

Mrs. Richard Barclay may wish her husband had thought twice about his gift to UC Irvine: $1 million toward the construction of a 756-seat theater. Following her husband's death, Mrs. Barclay refused to fulfill the $600,000 remainder of her husband's pledge. The City of Irvine, along with the nonprofit operating company that runs the theater, sued the widow, and Mrs. Barclay eventually paid a portion of the promised amount.

Also caught in a legal battle over donations were the family of Hugh Culverhouse. His widow, Joy McCann Culverhouse, sued the U. of Alabama in May 1997 to nullify the pledge her husband had made to Alabama's business school. The school filed a counter-suit for a share of the family's foundation, and the Culverhouse family was forced to cough up a whopping $16 million to the university.

Sound heartless? Not to Cornell U. senior Carl Winter, who says donors should be bound to their agreements. "If a written promise of donation is agreed upon, the donor should be held responsible. It's like a contract," he says.

But some students think punishing donors for pinching pennies is a bit harsh. Nicholas Frutiger, a senior at the U. of Georgia, says, "It seems wholly unfair to legally penalize someone for a sudden lack of generosity."

So after graduation rolls around and your friendly, neighborhood alumni society starts harassing you for donations, don't just agree with 'em to get off the phone – you might find yourself in court.

By Anna Attkisson, U. of Kansas/Illustration By Joel Coughlin, Buffalo State U.


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