Alchemical Thoughts

Campus Donors: Can’t Live With Them, Sure as Heck Can’t Live Without Them

Posted on: June 23, 2009

This is not the first time I have made light of campuses and their donors, and some of the choices donors make when it comes to feeding their vanity. Let's be honest and call a spade a spade. Most wealthy donors are not doing it for the common good, but as a tax write-off. So, going in with our eyes open, should we be surprised when we see certain stories out there? From donors forking out bucks to name bathrooms to corporate branding on campus, getting people to be somewhat generous with educational institutions is an art and a pain. To some, it can be a necessary evil. Anyhow, the latest fuss about getting donors to name courses in order to save the classes made me wonder. Sounds like the type of thing to write an extended post, but I am lacking the time. So for now, I am just tossing some items here so I can ponder for later. But at the end of the day, let's be honest again. Is it really that far fetched to have donors name a class after them? I can see the possibilities already.

  • From The New York Times, "Colleges Ask Donors to Help Meet Demand for Aid." It does not seem unreasonable to me, but giving some money so some kids can graduate is just not as glamorous as naming the new sciences building or putting in a few million bucks for some phallic bell tower or very elegant garden. You can't put a plaque on a student. Now, a tattoo, that may be an idea.
  • And from The Wall Street Journal, it seems that there is "New Unrest on Campus as Donors Rebel." Because often charity comes with strings attached, or in cases like this, very strong chains and contracts. And donors tend to get pissy if you sell off that fancy art collection they gave four generations ago because you need to keep the electricity on. 
  • And more recently, the City College of San Francisco was floating the idea of naming courses for donors in order to save those courses from extinction. Here and here are some accounts on the matter. Is it really that much a stretch to name a course or two after some donor? Jack Welsh is putting his name to an MBA program. If it works for him, why not for other classes? Maybe we need to come up with a list of candidates then hit them up for some money.

Just a thought or two.

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June 2009
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