Two days ago, David French had a great post over at National Review’s Phi Beta Cons about Larry Ellison’s decision to rescind his $115 million gift to Harvard University following the Larry Summers fiasco. I have consistently been amazed at how wealthy alums give to their alma maters uncritically and almost as if they had no choice in the matter. The most extreme version of this that I have been exposed to was at a speech in New York City, when an audience member stood up and said (this is far from an exact quote, but it gets the point across), “I have a friend who is planning to give $18 million to Harvard this year. When I tell him that he shouldn’t, given all the problems with cost, political correctness, and the Summers debacle, he responds, ‘Harvard is trying to raise a billion dollars? What difference can my measly $18 million make? They wouldn’t even notice if I decided not to give.”
One of your primary jobs as the head of any non-profit is to raise funds for a cause in which you wholeheartedly believe. For me to hear someone talk about his tremendous generosity being essentially incapable of affecting any positive change in higher education was just heartbreaking. I can certainly think of a far better, smarter, and more efficient use for his money!
Alums have to stop being so fatalistic. Their money can make a difference, but not if they act as if their generosity is something that their alma maters are simply owed rather than something that they must earn. Donors to Johns Hopkins, Gettysburg College, or DePaul University should certainly do some investigating before they send in any checks.