Backlash on Major Gifts to Universities?

Yale_1 When donors start questioning the logic of major gifts to their Ivy League alma maters, you know the  times they are a'changin....The last in a growing salvo comes from Martin Kimel, a government lawyer in the District of Columbia, whose opinion piece in yesterday's L.A. Times questions whether universities represent the best social return on donations, especially gifts to elite law and business schools. According to the article:

Alumni should also take note. The point of charitable giving is to benefit society, not to buy favored admissions for your kids. There are 1,000 good ways to improve the world through philanthropy, but building fancier lecture halls and boosting law or business professors' salaries probably aren't two of them.

Similar comments were offered in a widely-discussed NYT opinion piece by lawyer, writer, activist, actor Ben Stein as far back as October 23, 2005:

Is it possible that giving to Yale right now is a bit like giving gifts to Goldman Sachs or Brown Brothers Harriman? I am sure that there are fine people in those places, and investment bankers are almost always intelligent, hard-working men and women. I enjoy their company. But they really don't need my money, and other people do.

I love Yale, and I am deeply grateful to Yale. It is a star in my sky every day and night. But at this point, is it an investment bank or a school? I am really not sure, and this troubles me. I would love to be shown that I am wrong, but I am not certain that I am.

Stein was blasted for his comments back in the day.  Was he starting a trend or is this something new that has emerged in response to the enormous endowment campaigns being launched by Stanford, Columbia and others?  If folks did resist the urge/slash pressure to place these major gifts to alma mater first on their list, what sort of repercussions would we see in communities locally, nationally and globally?

Susan Herr

Posted at 8:52 AM, Nov 28, 2006 in Education | High Net Worth Donors | Philanthropic Strategy | Permalink | Comment