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Alumna Promises Donation If College President Loses Weight

Alumna Promises Donation If College President Loses Weight

How would you feel if a stranger offered to pay you to lose weight?  Or, even better – if that stranger gave money to your company on the condition that you would shed a certain number of pounds?  Sounds like an episode of The Office, right?  Well, it’s reality for the president and staff of Stephens College, a women’s school in Columbia, MO, where an alum has promised a donation of $1 million if the college’s employees can lose a total of 250 pounds by midnight on January 1.  If the college’s president, Diane Lynch, can lose 25 pounds, the donor will add $100,000 to her gift.

As a student at a school with an extensive and sometimes cultish alumni network, I’m fully aware of the extent to which universities will go to appease their alums, in the hope of monetary support.  But this situation, documented in the Chronicle of Higher Education, is just embarrassing for everyone involved.  Lynch seems to have bravely put on her game face in an attempt to snag the cash, saying, that the donation is “unique” because it’s not about creating a scholarship or new program (you know, those silly programs that help the students) – no, it’s about “investing in the people who work at this college.”

Investing in them?  Or making them feel inadequate and body-conscious?  The donor in question seems to have no shortage of self-righteousness; “fit and fond of organic food,” she wants to generously use her wealth to incentivize weight loss among America’s obese population.  But there also seems to be a heavy dose of body image issues – according to Lynch, the donor, at 87, “weighs exactly what she did when she married her husband—117 pounds. It’s a point of pride for her that she has maintained her youthful physique.”

So apart from the insinuation that most women, no longer needing to impress the men around them, immediately lose all interest in their health or appearance after getting married, the donor clearly doesn’t just want her former college’s employees to be healthy – she wants them to aspire to a certain standard of beauty, because she does.

As distasteful as this deal is, what really made me cringe was Lynch’s refusal to admit that this is an inappropriate and insulting proposition.  Instead, she cheerfully declared that she was eager to start her diet.  Ultimately, it’s Lynch’s choice to do what the donor requests – and certainly, the college will reap the benefits – but are her employees really so enthused?  If this anonymous donor really wants to emphasize health and well-being at her college, she should invest in organic cafeteria food or new gym equipment – not by “incentivizing” her way to a svelte college staff.

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48 comments

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8:22PM PDT on Aug 30, 2010

What's wrong with that? As many people who want to lose weight, or quit smoking, etcetc., will tell you, incentives are great. They motivate & inspire you. I am sure the alumna was donating anyways, & then decided to give an incentive.

5:09PM PDT on Aug 27, 2010

while I think its wonderful to want to donate money to the school, i think it is AWFUL, especially in a girls' school where there are likely MANY girls who already have horrible body images and/or problems with eating disorders and the like!!! this is just irresponsible on the part of the Alum---if they wanted to give the money, they'd give the money. Why make the staf jump through hoops like circus animals for it? What if they don't reach this goal? what message is that going to send to the girls attending the school? That if you're not thin and pretty (and starving yourself) that you'll never be able to get ahead? Thoughtless and callous, that's what I say!!!

11:11AM PDT on Aug 27, 2010

As a larger person, I am always surprised at the number of people who have more trouble with MY weight than I do!

9:33AM PDT on Aug 27, 2010

Consider it a healthy challenge. It's better than going to jail or being dunked in dunking pool! Think about the kids.

9:00AM PDT on Aug 27, 2010

So anne b where do you draw the line for money?

What message does it send to the woman in the college about what you are willing to do for money. Should you willing to be willing to give up anything as long as someone gives you lots of money? Is that the message she sends to the future women leaders she is supposed to be educating?

8:48AM PDT on Aug 27, 2010

I find this insulting, the world comes in all shapes and sizes, I get tired of all this perfect weight propaganda. All that maters is people try to eat healthy and feel comfortable and well in their bodies. A certain number on a scale is just meaningless.

5:07AM PDT on Aug 27, 2010

It's great that someone wants to give back but to make losing weigh a requirement sounds somewhat demeaning...

1:37AM PDT on Aug 27, 2010

thank you

9:22PM PDT on Aug 26, 2010

she should have rejected,i thought donations are given freely without conditions tied to it.

8:43PM PDT on Aug 26, 2010

A new educational trend: Race To The Scales! This is demeaning to the staff at the college. It also ignores the fact that while there is a significant obesity problem in the U.S., there is also a significant problem with eating disorders at the other end of the spectrum. I agree with Chris L.'s statement, "It is not about enpowering women, it is again about controlling women."

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