- The University of Nevada, Las Vegas made headlines this week, as a donor pledge of more than $14 million to the university's medical school has been rescinded with the looming departure of president Len Jessup, according to Inside Higher Ed. Members of the university's board of trustees are questioning the timing and ethics of the revoked pledge, as Jessup announced the gift after receiving a negative review from Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Thom Reilly.
- The medical school pledge is one of several which could amount to more than $39 million in take-backs from foundations and private donors should Jessup leave UNLV, reports the Las Vegas Sun. One regent says that the lost pledges should not be a major concern to the institution. “The board governs higher ed; we’re not fundraisers. It isn’t our responsibility,” said Trevor Hayes, who chairs the regents’ Business, Finance and Facilities Committee and is also on the board of directors of the UNLV Campus Improvement Authority.
- An anonymous donor also went on the record to outline the school's prospects of fundraising without Jessup as president. “Len generated an immense amount of support among the donor community,” the benefactor told the Las Vegas Sun. “I can’t speak for others, but for myself, we’d be at zero contributions without Len there.”
Donors having access to high-level personnel decisions is nothing new in higher education. Boosters influence the selection of coaches in revenue-yielding sports, rich benefactors influence the hiring or retention of high-profile professors in academic departments. In many ways, a presidency would seem to be a natural evolution of the impact of wealth on a wealth-starved industry like higher education.
But this level of influence, much in the way of sports or academia, should come with limits. Rather than dictating the direction of a presidency, donors may find themselves as regular consults of trustees and campus executives, particularly in areas which fit their business expertise. Large schools which have strong ties with media and coalitions of donors shouldn't have a problem establishing these kinds of guidelines, but smaller private schools where large gifts could make the difference between growing and struggling, may have to assess the value of certain gifts in the face of a larger campus community being harmed by donor gamesmanship.