How the University of New Hampshire spun blowing a frugal librarian's donation on a stupid football scoreboard

In September 2016, we learned that the University of New Hampshire was going to use $1 million that an incredibly frugal librarian saved while working as a library cataloger for 50 years to buy a new scoreboard for its stadium.

Now, an enraging investigative piece by Craig Fehrman in Deadspin reveals how the university cynically planned to spin its decision to blow $1m of this librarian's generous gift on a useless frippery for its ill-starred football team while only directing $100k of his donation to the library he loved.

New Hampshire spends less per student in its state colleges than any other state in the union, and UNH's tuition is among the highest in the state, thanks in large part to the enormous spending it diverts to the campus football team, whose games are sparsely attended.

UNH clearly believes its future is football, and so when the Morin made his rare unrestricted gift of $4m (which he had saved by eating microwave meals, never going out, rarely buying new clothes, and restricting his hobbies to activities he could do for free) to the university, they immediately earmarked $1m to buy a giant scoreboard for the stadium.

But according to internal documents obtained under public records requests, the university understood that this wouldn't play well, so they came up with an elaborate plan to explain how this was honoring Morin's intentions because he sometimes watched football games on TV while he was dying of colon cancer. In reality, Morin spent his last days assuring his visiting co-workers that they wouldn't have to worry about funding for his beloved library.

Fehrman's piece also offers some insights into Morin's character, which was delightfully eclectic and wonderful. Truly he was a fine human being who was betrayed by an institution he gave his life to.

In 1955, Morin graduated from Nashua High as an honor student. The local paper ran his picture, which captured a head full of thick, slicked-back hair, along with the sweet and muted smile he'd flash for the rest of his life. That fall Morin enrolled at the University of New Hampshire, the first and only person from his family to attend college. It took him eight years to finish, mostly because he had to keep dropping out to work. Money had become even scarcer when his parents divorced, and after their split Morin quit speaking to any family member except his mother. Yet something happy did emerge from this period: one of his jobs was a part-time position at the UNH library, and Morin liked it so much he got a master's in library science, then joined the staff full time in 1965.

Morin's task was cataloging the new media that swept into the library, which initially meant typing their information onto small cards, until everything switched to computers. His broad knowledge base and reflexive thoroughness made him an incredibly good cataloguer. The toughest items—foreign titles, sheet music—always landed in his cubicle. Everyone who knew Morin says the same thing: the library was his life. But they mean the job more than the people. He was kind to his colleagues; he was happy to make small talk, to tease, to burst into a silly song. But he rarely went beyond that, even if that required him to skip staff meetings or to duck out of deeper conversations about family or politics. He wanted to keep his life simple and free.

This isn't to say his life was empty. Morin approached his hobbies like he approached his cataloguing, though perhaps it was the other way around. While he'd avoided going to movie theaters for more than a decade, in 1979 he invested in an exciting new technology: the VCR. At home he started watching three or four movies a night and kept it up until he'd seen 21,000 films. (At some point he went back and counted.) His television quit working in 1997, but instead of fixing it Morin flipped to a new pursuit: reading every American trade book that had been published in the 1930s, in chronological order.

Morin was able to practice these hobbies cheaply thanks to his connections in the interlibrary loan department. He did everything cheaply. He didn't have a credit card. He didn't travel, preferring to spend vacations at his small ranch home a few miles from campus. While he'd enjoyed routines even as a teenager, the desire intensified as he grew older. Each day, breakfast came from one of the library's vending machines; lunch was a sandwich stored in the pocket of his sports coat; supper was a frozen dinner.

How UNH Turned A Quiet Benefactor Into A Football-Marketing Prop
[Craig Fehrman/Deadspin]