November 18, 2005

Foundation Director: Big-$ Donors to Colleges Need to Restrict and Monitor How the Funds are Used

Filed under: Business Moves — Tom @ 1:45 pm

James Piereson, Executive Director of the John M. Olin Foundation, has important thoughts for those who donate large amounts to our universities:

We can no longer assume that college graduates possess even a rudimentary knowledge of history, for instance, or that they understand basic concepts like federalism or the separation of powers or, indeed, that they know about the ideas and events that have shaped our institutions. All this great wealth, donated with the best of intentions, appears to have had the perverse effect of liberating academic institutions to do a less than admirable job of educating the young.

And what do the young learn when they do learn? Entrepreneurs may give generously, but college faculties are today awash in antibusiness and anti-free-market prejudices, with scholarly publications beating the drum against globalization and the supposed depredations of capitalism.

….. All this is roughly quantifiable. A recent national survey of college faculty showed that 72% of professors held liberal and left-of-center views, while just 15% held conservative ones. This imbalance, surveys show, has grown worse since the early 1980s. It is a strange paradox indeed that academic opinion should have moved so far to the left in a period of unprecedented wealth and prosperity for colleges and universities themselves–let alone in a period of capitalism’s triumph and communism’s defeat.

This is why donors can’t just give money and hope it gets used wisely:

Here is where the charitable giving comes in. These trends have taken hold in academia in part because too many donors have failed to exercise appropriate care when signing over their funds.

….. Donors are often unaware that they are entitled to set aside their money for purposes of their own choosing, not just established categories. As former Yale provost Frank Turner has said: “Donor restrictions can call institutions of higher education to fulfill their highest ideals.” A few diligent philanthropists, like publisher Philip Merrill and investor Sir John Templeton, craft careful agreements with universities before any checks are signed and then monitor their gifts regularly.

….. Obviously, this sort of due diligence does require time and effort on the part of the donor, But if even a few more philanthropists were watching where their funds ended up, college officials would surely monitor their programs more carefully.

I would also encourage big-money donors to consider contributing to next-generation higher-learning solutions that go around the universities with walls. In addition to operating under antiquated learning models, some of America’s established universities appear to be so philosophically hostile to open and honest academic inquiry that they may be incurable.

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