Teddy Hall’s decision to spend £15,000 on a snowdrop garden has sown the seeds of a surreal row between students and college authorities over the college’s fundraising priorities.
College Principal Keith Gull instructed bemused student telephone campaigners to ask alumni for donations to the snowdrop fund alongside gifts to help the college pay for tutorials and staff.
While the college asserts that the investment will enable it to harvest greater donations from visitors and alumni impressed by the flower display in the future, students have called the spending “ridiculous” at a time when funding cuts are leading to pruning in other areas of college spending.
Gull claimed at a heated meeting with the JCR last week that “Teddy Hall is not known for many things”. He plans to change this by luring tourists to see “a fantastic show of snowdrops”.
A whole page is devoted to “the snowdrop project” in the college’s glossy annual fund brochure. Alongside requests for old members to donate to undergraduate bursaries and hardship funds comes a bid for £15,000 of alumni donations to buy “between 10 and 20,000 common snowdrops”.
In an unfortunate phrase, Bursar Ernest Parkin said that the college had put up “seed money” to buy the plants initially but that alumni would meet the cost eventually.
At a time when colleges across the University are facing up to the effects of swingeing government funding cuts, quizzical Teddy Hall students have questioned the college’s spending priorities.
Graduate student Ian Lyons, who has been at the college for seven years, said that he was “offended” by Gull’s claim that the Hall is not well-known.
He said: “It has a long sporting tradition that outshines most of its rivals…the college reputation and legacy should be built on what it is already proud of and good at, not by constructing a new focus, particularly one that is unpopular with so many.”
Third year student Daniel Lowe said: “Having events based around a carpet of snowdrops seems nonsensical as these will be in the garden during January and February,” when the weather would be inclement for a garden party.
He also pointed out that visitors would be able to see the snowdrops through a gate without having to pay admission.
Gull defended the decision, saying: “In three years time…there will be a fantastic show of snowdrops. We will then open the hall to visitors and we’ll open it to Aularians [Teddy Hall alumni] with events to raise yet more money.”
At the acrimonious meeting, students also questioned the college’s leadership during Gull’s first two terms as Principal.
Lowe said: “The snowdrops are a very visible recent change within college that encapsulates growing undergraduate frustration with the college imposing unpopular unilateral decisions without notice.”
Gull apologised, saying that some decisions had been poorly made. He said: “One of the big things that I’ve got to do in this job is pull back and get better communication…I think there are mistakes being made, but I am trying to get agendas looking forward and…turn those kind of things round.”
College officials did not respond to requests for comment.