The George Mason University Board of Visitors unanimously approved yesterday the acquisition of a 10-acre estate as the home of the university president, dismissing arguments that the $560,000 purchase price would be better spent to bolster academic programs.
The purchase of the house and its grounds off Popes Hill Road about a quarter-mile from the university in Fairfax County will be undertaken by the nonprofit George Mason University Foundation Inc.
John T. Hazel, GMU rector and chief proponent of the plan, said funds will be raised from private sources and no state money will be used. He said the deal should be completed by mid-July and University President George Johnson could move in by the fall semester.
The property, valued at about $1 million, was offered to the university at half price as a matching gift by Joseph J. (Sonny) Mathy, a Fairfax businessman.
Hazel defended the purchase yesterday, saying: "It's not in any way taking money from one pocket and putting it into another because it isn't in the pocket to begin with. The funds that will be raised for the home would not be offered for other purposes."
The board's foremost concern was the image such a purchase might project in light of a recent 5 percent cut in the state university's budget. Several board members questioned whether faculty and students might view the purchase as a case of misplaced priorities and thus, they said, lower campus morale.
"I don't think a new home for the president is among our top five priorities. I do think it is in the top 10," board member Randolph W. Church said. "But when we're able to fulfill one of them and take advantage of a substantial gift, I think we ought to take advantage of it."
"The only argument that has significance," Church said, "is the one of morale. I think it's something we have to consider. But if all the facts are considered, it should not have that effect."
Frances Batchelder, another board member, suggested the board put out a white paper to make certain that the GMU's faculty and students receive the "right, positive idea" about the acquisition.