Thursday, November 29, 2007

Duke Fundraising

Only a few years ago a college or university fundraising drive with a $1 billion goal was a rarity. Now we’re seeing “$3- and $4-billion megadrives at top-tier universities,” says Chronicle columnist Kristin Butler. ( Duke Pays, part deux )

The mega-billion growth in fund-raising will certainly impact Duke. Butler, with her usual carefully researched and thoughtfully critical approach, considers what the impact might be. She also has a message about values at Duke.

Here’s some of what she says:

An important part of [adapting to a changing fund-raising] process entails learning from past mistakes. Among the most egregious were the excesses and abuse that occasionally characterized former Duke President Nan Keohane's pursuit of $2 billion.

One of the more shocking examples during this era was the University's willingness to sell acceptance letters to the under-qualified children of wealthy non-alumni, called "development admits."

At its height during the Keohane administration, this policy encouraged administrators to auction up to 5 percent of our freshman class off to families willing to pledge six- or seven-figure donations.

As I argued last fall, policies that reward the rich for being privileged have no place at a University that espouses meritocratic values.

This next time around, Duke should refuse to accept such tainted money.

Less alarming (though no less frustrating) is the University's ongoing failure to articulate a coherent vision for its fundraising projects.

Take, for example, the $300-million Financial Aid Initiative, which will save Duke the cost of supporting needy students with funds from its operating budget. Although officials insist that this will insure the long-term viability of the University's need-blind policy, it won't directly benefit current undergrads.

At a time when peer institutions are replacing loans with grants, officials' refusal to explain what will happen to the tens of millions of dollars in savings the FAI will create remains profoundly unfortunate. A larger campaign will require a much greater level of transparency and candor.
Transparency and candor?

Polite people at Duke’s Development Office and similarly polite Alumni Association officers have told me transparency and candor are hallmarks of Duke’s fundraising process.

But many Dukies tell me that's not been their experience.

Butler continues:
Little about that process will come easily, especially for Duke's notoriously tight-lipped administrative culture.

And yet for a University that has historically relied on endowment gains (in fact, the 10-year returns on our $5.9-billion endowment are the highest in the country) and support from the Duke Endowment for its wealth, this growing emphasis on fundraising could even work to our advantage by encouraging long overdue cultural changes.

Put differently, when faced with a sink-or-swim situation, I'm counting on administrators to keep us afloat without jettisoning our institutional values. Let's hope they're up to the task.
Kristin Butler’s entire column is here. It’s well worth a read, if you haven’t done so already.

Duke insists it needs your money.

The Chronicle thinks you should give as much as you can.

Well, that’s all good to know.

Now, how do you feel and what do you think?