Going through the papers on my desk this morning, I noticed an article from the March 7 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education headlined “Donations Increase for 3rd Year in a Row.” For the 2006 fiscal year, America’s colleges and universities raised $28 billion in private donations—9.4 percent more than in 2005. With tuition (perhaps counterintuitively) skyrocketing to go along with this upsurge, that’s a whole heck of a lot of money, a testament to the loyalty Americans have to their institutions of higher education.
Unfortunately, as those who follow FIRE’s issues know, this money too often is used to further programs and policies that contradict fundamental ideals of liberty. Too many wealthy colleges (I’m looking at you, Johns Hopkins and Tufts!) instead take resources generously donated by alumni and then proceed to hobble the intellects of today’s students and faculty members with speech codes, overbroad and vague harassment regulations, and generally unjust decision-making that impair individual rights and academic freedom. Indeed, for those looking to donate to their alma maters, a quick look at FIRE’s Spotlight speech codes database wouldn’t hurt—after all, don’t you want to know if your alma mater is treating its students fairly and respecting their rights?
Another thing that alumni can do to help their universities is to donate to FIRE (and if you mark your donation as “for the New York office,” a generous anonymous donor has agreed to match up to $75,000 of donations!). Our mission at FIRE is to improve higher education by restoring academic freedom and individual rights to those who lack it, and to encourage colleges and universities to adopt policies and procedures that allow for open discussion in a true marketplace of ideas. After all, even a 200 million dollar gift to start, for instance, a law school is wasted if those who attend and teach at that school aren’t able to express and debate ideas freely. Only intellectual stagnation can result from the atmosphere of stifling conformity that so many campuses seem intent on promoting—an atmosphere that hurts the donor, the institution, and faculty and students alike.
Even with only a tiny, tiny fraction of the resources that America’s universities receive each year, FIRE is the most effective organization working to keep the idea of a truly liberal education alive. With help from our donors, we can be even more effective in the years to come, and help convince America’s higher education establishment to give our nation’s foundational ideals of liberty the respect they deserve.