One college gets its biggest gift yet, but faculty question strings attached
- A $50 million gift that officials at Saint Louis University hope will raise the university's status by funding a new research institute and a center for applied economics has stirred controversy among faculty members who say the donor inappropriately recommended the center's new director and will play a role in decisions about research funding.
- Inside Higher Education reported that one of the two economics professors leading the opposition to the involvement of alumnus, trustee and investment fund co-founder Rex Sinquefield, said she was told there was no pool of candidates but that the Sinquefield presented a qualified candidate who was then chosen. Faculty members complained his involvement in the directorship and funding decisions violated university policy and academic standards.
- The donation is the largest in the private, Catholic institution's history, and many say the resulting research center investments have the potential to considerably raise the institution's profile in the region and nationally. The contention, however, stems from shifting donor expectations of their influence in decisions related to their gifts, something today's cash-strapped colleges are reconsidering.
Shrinking public funding and enrollment has caused public and private universities to increasingly rely on fundraising and larger donors, who sometimes expect more say in gift-related decisions than faculty members and students believe is appropriate and whose political activity or behavior can be controversial.
For example, donations by the politically active Koch Brothers to several institutions, including George Mason University, have spurred controversy with students and faculty members concerned about the power donors might have in decisions that they think should be made by educators. This spring, documents were released showing that several arrangements were made by George Mason from 2003 to 2011 allowing the Charles Koch Foundation to have direct involvement in hiring. George Mason students have filed a lawsuit about donor transparency, according to Inside Higher Education.
Meanwhile, Ohio University returned a $500,000 gift from Roger Ailes, who stepped down from his position as chairman and CEO of Fox News in July 2016 following sexual harassment allegations, according to Inside Philanthropy. Several institutions have considered distancing themselves from actor Bill Cosby, who supported a number of colleges. And the University of Southern California refused a $5 million donation from film director Harvey Weinstein for its School of Cinematic Arts to support scholarships for women following allegations of his sexual misconduct against women.
There were 35 private gifts to colleges valuing $50 million or more in 2017, compared to 22 in 2017, according to data kept by the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Massive donations could be on the decline, however, with the latest tax bill making fewer taxpayers eligible for tax-deductible contributions through a higher standard deduction, Bloomberg reported. Some wealthy donors may be less likely to donate part of their estate because estate-tax regulations have been loosened.
- Inside Higher Education Letting the Donor Decide