Despite the plans of the University of Toronto to close David Dunlap Observatory (DDO) and sell the land, plenty of people aren't happy about it.
We learned this week that there is an online petition that calls for the university to call off the sale. I've wondered about Internet petitions. Do they actually work? The one for the DDO has more than 1,600 signatures, but a bunch of them are noted as "anonymous." I find it rather odd to sign a petition and keep it to yourself. I understand that the person's real name is logged in the system and simply not displayed on the website, but it's still curious.
The e-mail I received about the petition says that all the names will be printed and taken to the provincial legislature and the university.
Toronto's National Post newspaper has had several articles about the controversy, including how teenagers are trying to save the observatory.
Perhaps equally significant is the story angle about how institutions who receive donations of land and/or money sometimes don't do what they are supposed to do with the bequest. A follow-up article last week explains that a court battle resolved in the university's favor invalidated a clause that said: "should the lands cease to be used for an observatory" it shall "revert to . . . her heirs." This allowed the university to legally sell the property, which is set to close in mid-February.
Changing the rules of a donation sets a bad precedent. Although it probably will never happen, I still occasionally think about winning a lot of money and donating some of it somewhere, perhaps to have an observatory named after me. (Bill Gates donated $10 million to help fund the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope — but he earned his money.) It's sad to think that future lawyers could strip me of the legacy.