the price of funding

Capital campaigns and other fundraising efforts

Academic institutions, both private and public, are under enormous pressure to raise money from individual or corporate donors.  We all seem to be on a competition to get donations, big donations.  But I worry that in this race to be the chosen recipient of those big donations the original mission and goals of our colleges and universities might be the losers.

Who decides what is funded? How come those with money get to decide which programs flourish, which lines of research are supported?   Don’t get me wrong; there are many examples of wonderful projects (short and long term) that are made possible by the generosity of alumni, foundations, corporations and many others, but what gets me every time is that more and more there is a shift, even at public institutions, in the responsibility of funding from the public, represented by our governments, to the private world, to special interests. I know; there are special interests within the government too and those who make decisions about how to allocate public funding at all levels, do not always support or understand the importance of education or, at least, its nuances.

As the university I work for embarks on a major capital campaign, I wonder who will come to the rescue of our library branch. Yes, we have a beautiful historic building, important library collections and archives, and we serve well ranked programs in architecture and planning, but we are competing for funds with science, business, technology… not to mention athletic facilities.

 On December 11th I read on Chronicle of Higher Education about Princeton recent dispute[1] with the heirs of the Robertsons, major donors for the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.  I understand that when you make an important donation (and important is a relative term, at least for me) you, as the donor, might want to have guidelines and limitations in to how that your contribution will be used and I also understand that when accepting such a donation, an institution should stick to the terms established, but but I feel that the pressure that we are feeling to get more and more donations is putting more and more institutions in a place where they might be compromising the integrity of their mission and that is really sad.

We also hear stories from all over about raising tuitions and, naturally, this has devastating effects limiting access to education to only those in a privileged position and it seriously limits the diversity in our campuses.

State contribution to the running of public universities keeps dropping and I believe that is where the answer lies, in giving back the state the responsibility of funding these institutions. We need to decide what are priorities are, what do we want our governments to fund and we need to let those in power know.

– martha

1. Gose, Ben. Princeton to Pay $90-Million to Settle Dispute With Donors’ Heirs. Thursday, December 11, 2008

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1 Comment

Filed under funding, government

One response to “the price of funding

  1. greyson

    I am so happy to have you actively blogging again, now that you are settled into your new home, Martha!

    Now, re: funding…oy. The way you describe the situation in academic libraries is very similar to my experience in non-profit organizations. At some point I realised that the people who raised the money and dealt with the donors were incredibly powerful. I got into “development” for a little while, but as much as I tried to love it as a tool for social change (a la Kim Klein: http://www.kleinandroth.com/team.htm), I just didn’t have it in me to enjoy the work; never got beyond seeing it as a necessary evil.

    I have certainly seen major donors of non-profits force mergers and restructurings that were not in the best interests of clients/the community. I have absolutely talked the talk of diverse funding sources while knowing that if one major donor offered gobs of money it would be very hard to turn down such an offer (and thus likely becoming too dependent on one source). I have definitely been part of debates over whether rooms or buildings should be named after donors, after corporate sponsors, etc. The rate of reliance on private philanthropy to fill social needs is much higher in the US than in some other places (e.g., Canada), and I share some of your concerns about this structure ever enabling real social change.

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