As backlash over Cabrillo College name change grows, some donors weigh whether to keep giving
The Cabrillo College Foundation raises between $3 million and $6 million to support the college’s students through scholarships and its programs. As many longtime Cabrillo supporters oppose the college’s planned name change, Lookout reached out to more than 20 donors to gauge what they may do about their future support.
Several major donors to Cabrillo College say they are frustrated by what they feel was a lack of community engagement before the school voted to change its name, but are divided when it comes to whether to stop donating to the college.
Hundreds of people support Cabrillo College through the Cabrillo College Foundation, a nonprofit foundation that raises as much as $6 million annually for student scholarships and programs. Donations have ranged from less than $100 up to gifting a home in estate plans to the foundation.
College leaders have faced mounting criticism of the decision to drop the name of 16th-century European explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and the process the college has used since it started exploring the idea of a name change in July 2020. The school’s governing board voted to change the college’s name in November. With the choices for a new name narrowed down to five, the board has set an Aug. 7 date to pick a new one.
Both name-change supporters and opponents have been vocal in public sessions, letters to the editor and on social media. Another way people are showing their opposition is by telling board trustees and foundation leaders that they will no longer donate. Surveys by the college found that 70% of foundation supporters wanted Cabrillo to keep its current name.
That sentiment has raised alarm within the college. “It’s definitely something that we should be concerned about and I don’t want to make light of it,” said Cabrillo College Governing Board Chair Adam Spickler. “It’s very troubling, and it’s complicated.”
Lookout reached out to more than 20 donors to the Cabrillo College Foundation who were listed in the foundation’s 2022 annual report as having given at least $1,500 to the school. Of those, eight responded, with some saying they were weighing whether to stop donating, while others pledged to continue their support even though they opposed the name change.
‘It could be devastating’
Richard Crocker and his wife, Theresa, donated $1 million to the college’s Crocker Theater (their namesake) in 2007 and have given several hundred thousand dollars more over the years. One of those donations was a $100,000 gift in 2014 to help the college’s dental hygiene program avoid cutting students and staff.
Crocker told Lookout he offered the foundation $1 million if the college doesn’t change its name.
“I have told [the foundation] that my wife and I are going to support Cabrillo College with a $1 million gift to the foundation in the event that the college does not change their name,” he said. “That’s big news.”
More coverage of Cabrillo College's renaming
More coverage of Cabrillo College's renaming
Read all of Lookout’s coverage of Cabrillo College’s decision to change its name.
Crocker added that even if the college goes ahead with the name change, he will continue donating to the school, despite his opposition to the renaming. However, he believes not all donors will do the same.
“I think it could be devastating,” he said. “Not everybody is of the same ilk as I am as far as continuing to support the foundation. But my wife and I feel strongly about continuing to support it regardless of whether we agree with the position of the board of trustees.”
Foundation Executive Director Eileen Hill said the Crockers have been very generous donors and she appreciates they have “not lost sight of what we do at the foundation in supporting students.”
She declined to say how the foundation intends to respond to the offer. In discussions with Crocker, “we didn’t really talk about that” she said.
“We have to see how that plays out,” she said.
‘That’s my voice’
Linda Burroughs, former foundation board president and current Santa Cruz Symphony board president, similarly opposes the name change, but says she will continue donating. However, she said based on her conversations with other donors, Burroughs can say “with conviction” that she knows of nearly a hundred people who are likely to stop donating.
“It’s probably close to 100 that I know personally who are significant donors” she said.
She is most concerned with the potential long-term impact of people who are legacy donors who say they’ll no longer include Cabrillo in their estate plans — a document listing who receives an individual’s assets, such as a house, upon their death.
“That can be millions of dollars,” she said.
For the past two years, Sheri Watson-Riley has given $20,000 each year to the foundation toward a scholarship through an endowment, according to foundation documents. While she said she will continue to give money for the upcoming year, she is thinking about stopping her donations beyond that.
Watson-Riley says she wasn’t aware of the renaming until around the time the board voted to change it in November 2022. She feels she didn’t have an opportunity to weigh in on the decision.
She is against the name change and says she feels the community members haven’t had fair chances to provide input. To her, her donation is the ultimate way to give her input.
“Well, that’s my voice,” she said. “It’s like voting is your voice.”
Earleen Overend and Wayne Palmer, who also oppose the name change, say they are considering taking a break from donating but haven’t yet come to a decision. Overend said the couple has donated $1,500 toward the foundation over the past several years and occasionally provided additional donations toward specific programs.
“I believe in Cabrillo and I know the foundation — whether they change [the name] or not — the foundation is still going to help students, and I believe in that strongly,” said Overend.
However, Overend said because all the people she has personally talked to have opposed the name change, she feels that the decision to change it doesn’t feel like one made by the community. She started working at the college instructional department in 1971 and both she and her husband Palmer have taken classes there. Overend is also a former foundation board member.
Palmer, a former assistant principal at Aptos High School and currently an interior designer, doesn’t like the options for the new name. He told Lookout that he submitted his name suggestions in the survey the college used to solicit a new name.
The survey allowed people to submit three suggestions. For his three choices, he submitted the name Cabrillo twice, along with Aptos Rancho — the latter he chose because that was previously the name of the land the college sits on.
Several name-change opponents plan to keep donating
“I believe [Cabrillo] is a brand name — it’s gone beyond the man, Mr. Cabrillo,” he said. “To change the brand, when you have such a winner, I think it’s just stupid. Find another way to deal with Juan Cabrillo, but don’t change the brand.”
Doug Barr, who worked at Cabrillo College more than three decades ago, recently wrote in the Aptos Times that he also opposed the name change and process. At the bottom of his piece, an editor’s note reads: “Barr says he has adjusted a $25,000 bequest in his will to the Cabrillo College Foundation, conditional on the name remaining Cabrillo College, and urges others to do the same.”
Lookout attempted to reach Barr but didn’t get in touch with him before publication.
Mary Akin and Owen Brown, who are listed in the 2022 annual report as having donated more than $2,500 in the 2021-2022 fiscal year, say they’ll continue to donate to the college “regardless of the name.”
Akin is a retired area educator and Brown is the former Santa Cruz Symphony board president. He also previously served on the Cabrillo College Foundation.
“We are saddened as to how disruptive this has become for the community,” said Brown. “We hope this can come to a resolution.”
Foundation donor Brian Herman, who donated $78,000 in the 2022-23 fiscal year according to a May report, said he doesn’t care about the name of the college. “Whatever the majority likes, that’s fine with me,” he said.
‘Letters and letters and letters’
Cabrillo College board trustee Rachael Spencer — the only trustee to vote against the name change — has long donated to the foundation. Although she opposes the name change, she has no intention of stopping her contributions. She’s also a current foundation board member.
“I’ve done it for years, I’m going to keep doing it for years. It’s very gratifying, and it’s very necessary,” she said. “I am very, very concerned about people who are angry in the community not donating any more.”
Spencer said while she does know of some people who have stopped donating, she doesn’t know the impacts of those losses. She said people often call her and express their anger about the decision and the process.
“I get letters and letters and letters,” she said. “I always respond, ‘We’re here for the students, let’s focus on that.’”
She said in the time that she’s been involved with Cabrillo College, nothing comes close to the anger she’s seeing in the community.
Former Cabrillo College history professor Sandy Lydon, who has been a vocal opponent of the name change, said he’s heard directly from donors and through word of mouth that several are planning to stop their donations.
“Some of these people who have said this, and they said it to me recently as well as before the [November] vote [to change the name] — they’re heavy hitters,” he said. “And that would be unfortunate.”
He said those who say they’re no longer giving to the college reflect a widespread frustration about the name-change process, but he believes that withholding money from the school will only harm students.
“I would counsel the people who are feeling that way to you know, step back and take a deep breath,” he said.
Cabrillo College and foundation leaders say that while they’re concerned about losing donors, it’s not yet clear how many are considering pulling their donations or how much money might be involved.
‘Hurting economically disenfranchised students’
Hill, the Cabrillo College Foundation executive director, said throughout the college’s renaming process, “only a handful of donors” have directly told her they won’t give anymore, but she doesn’t know what the impact has been or will be. For the 2022-23 fiscal year, the foundation is in the range of what it normally raises and expects to finish the year with $4.6 million raised, she said.
“We have an annual giving campaign and we’ve seen, just in this last year, a little dip, a 7% dip in giving,” she said. “However, we’ve had many donors who have given more this year, so they’ve sort of made up for that.”
Hill started working at the foundation more than 25 years ago. She’s spent hours talking to donors about the renaming and understands that some people are upset because they’ve had long ties to Cabrillo College and deeply care about it.
Since the college announced plans to explore the name change, she’s heard from donors who have said they’re strongly opposed to it and plan to stop donating. She’s also heard from people who have said they’re strongly opposed but plan to continue donating.
“For so many of our donors, even though they are very upset about this or disappointed about it, they know that all we do here at the foundation is to support students,” she said. “That’s really all we’re here for, and they know that that’s not going to change.”
Cabrillo board chair Spickler expressed frustration during a July 10 meeting at the backlash from some community members, given that board members have been working on a name-change process since July 2020 and held several public outreach sessions before voting in November to change the name. He has since apologized for his comments at the meeting.
But, he says, it’s important for him to understand that people might feel that way. “Because for whatever reason, what was going on with the name, and the exploration and education workshops and the listening sessions, it wasn’t on their radar,” he said. “That’s not their fault, and so if folks are saying they need more time with this, I need to hear that.”
As for foundation donors and their continued contributions, Spickler said that is entirely the decision of the donor.
“I can’t tell someone who donates to the foundation how they should think about this. But I can make a plea for them to consider doing something different,” said Spickler. “Hurting economically disenfranchised students because you’re upset with the decision that the governing board is making, I don’t think that that’s the best way to make your point.”