institutionalfinance

Moody's: Big-Time Sports Pose Growing Financial Risks

Moody’s issued a report last week warning universities of the risks associated with big-time sports and urging caution for those seeking to escalate into elite levels of competition. Focusing on institutions in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division I, the report acknowledges that while big-time sports can boost brand recognition, donor support and student applications, that’s accompanied by growing “financial and reputational risks that require careful oversight.” Those risks include budgetary strain (nine in 10 athletic programs are not self-sustaining and require growing subsidies diverted from other university operations), public scrutiny when scandals hit, depleted debt capacity caused by capital investment in athletic facilities, and uncertain future costs as concussion treatment and the amateur model continue to be challenged.

In June, Moody’s downgraded the NCAA’s credit outlook to negative, citing a major lawsuit angling for athletes to be paid. “Increased public discourse about the best interest of student-athletes combined with highly publicized litigation could destabilize the current intercollegiate athletic system and negatively impact the NCAA and its member universities,” the Moody’s report said.

Leaders urge research universities to look beyond U.S. government for support

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Some research university leaders say it's time to look beyond the federal government to states and businesses, given Congress's dysfunction.

National University Becomes Latest to Sponsor a Bowl Game

First the University of Phoenix paid millions of dollars to plaster its name on the stadium where the National Football League's Arizona Cardinals play their games. Then Bridgepoint Education, a fast-growing for-profit education company, sponsored the Holiday Bowl college football game in San Diego, where its corporate headquarters are located. But with Bridgepoint's primary institution, Ashford University, facing significant scrutiny from Congress and challenges (now mostly resolved) in retaining its accreditation, the company opted to let its sponsorship expire this year.

Now another university -- a nonprofit one -- is stepping in. National University, a professionally focused institution that is part of a growing system of similar colleges, will become the title sponsor of the Holiday Bowl this year, the Union-Tribune of San Diego reported. National does not have any sports teams itself.

 

 

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Essay on why one college stopped investing in fossil fuels

Doing what is right pays dividends. That is a lesson learned in the weeks and months following Unity College’s divestment from investment in fossil fuels.

In 2012, Unity College, an environmental college founded in 1965 by Unity, Maine-area residents became the first college in the United States to divest from investments in fossil fuels. With a modest endowment of $13.5 million, we could not afford to get this wrong. If divesting from investments in fossil fuels produced negative results for us, there would be no lifejacket at the ready -- we would sink, and fast. Far from possessing some special dispensation due to an economy of both the size of our student body and comparatively modest endowment of $13.5 million at the time, Unity had more to lose than large universities.

There was no drama in Unity’s decision to divest. Once our board members were satisfied that Unity’s fiduciary responsibilities would be met post-divestment, they unanimously supported the initiative.

If the warnings of naysayers turned out to be correct, this college would have far less cushion if things went wrong after the divestment than much wealthier institutions. In the ensuing months, however, I was surprised to read comments from some in higher education downplaying the significance of Unity’s decision to divest. They argued that they have far more to lose from divesting than an institution like Unity College, and disentangling their complex matrix of investments in order to do so would be a logistical nightmare akin to raising the Titanic.

A funny thing has happened since Unity College divested. Not only has this institution not lost money, but it has benefited from a positive series of unintended consequences.

The Rewards of Acting Upon an Ethical Imperative

Just weeks after Unity announced its decision to divest, our director of development, Martha Nordstrom, received a call from the Richard David Stutzke Foundation. The foundation, impressed by Unity’s divestment, offered a generous gift. That gift has since transformed into scholarships in perpetuity for students pursuing studies at Unity as part of its sustainable energy management and environmental policy, law, and society programs.

Foundation officials felt that Unity’s divestment demonstrated leadership and a commitment to the sustainability of the planet. We framed our decision as an ethical imperative related to the recognition that the burning of fossil fuels is driving the crisis of global climate change. Since Unity announced its decision to divest, more than 300 college and university campuses across the United States have seen the development of robust student movements encouraging divestment. Bill McKibben’s organization, 350.org, is leading this effort and encourages any who are interested in divesting to contact them.

An important aspect of our divestment is that we did not intend to use it as a political football. We have always intended to keep the focus on what is scientifically undeniable and point out the course of action we feel is justified. When considering whether to divest, our Board of Trustees discussed the political implications. Trustees unanimously voted to divest not as a monolithic group of liberal-leaning activists (they are not), but as a group of deeply engaged stewards of this college. The board agreed that our investments should be aligned with our values. All institutions of higher learning have a stake in this, regardless of their focus, given the consequences we all face from global climate change. There is no controversy regarding the need to mitigate global climate change, all academies of science recognize the existence of this problem.

Keep Politics Out of It

When advocating for divestment, disengage from possible political quandaries and stick to the facts. You must not allow others to turn divestment into a political act and struggle. The truth of it is that although Unity has an environmental mission, it has always been home to a diversity of political perspectives. In point of fact, caring about the planet is not a brand to be possessed by a political party, it is a timely value to be embraced by all of humanity.

At the risk of offering stereotypical characterizations, I would point out that we have students from conservative backgrounds who are studying to pursue careers in conservation law enforcement, while some sustainable agriculture and environmental policy majors are preservationists with a penchant for social causes championed by groups within the liberal spectrum. When making our divestment announcement , we did not characterize it as a choice between political philosophies, but rather a choice to proactively preserve the precious resources that students across the political spectrum care about.

Unity's divestment announcement has been well-received by its politically diverse college community, including alumni, some of whom have expressed an overwhelming sense of pride in their alma mater. This alone ought to be a call to action for development departments across higher education. Taking a stand on behalf of a world facing the ravages of global climate change is a winning position for advancement professionals, trustees, presidents and senior leaders across the spectrum.

Advancement Professionals Can Advocate for Change

Advancement professionals are in a position to advocate for their own institutions to divest from investments in fossil fuels. Their strength lies not only in their ability to point to the ethical imperative to do what is necessary and right in service to the ongoing renewal of civilization that is at the core of higher education, but to point out that doing so at this juncture makes good business sense.

The green economy is now overtaking the aged, lumbering giants of the dying fossil fuel industry. Divesting at this juncture will position institutions of higher learning to capitalize not only on the inevitable, the wholesale greening of the economy, but encourage the fossil fuel industry to start seriously transforming itself into an active participant. Most fossil fuel players know that carbon emissions must be reduced, probably sooner rather than later. The game afoot is to wring every last drop of profits possible before nightfall. By continuing the divestment movement within higher education, the fossil fuel power players will eventually lose their social contract to pursue business as usual. This will hopefully lead to major changes in service to a simple goal: ensuring that the fossil fuel reserves still available are not extracted and used.

If they are and business continues as usual, the science says it will be “game over” for this planet. The clock to get this done is ticking and advancement professionals in higher education can be change agents.

Financial managers may complain that divestment will be complicated and insurmountably onerous. However, it takes no more effort to manage a portfolio for minimum exposure to fossil fuels than it does to manage for maximum market return – and these two goals can coexist. Admittedly, markets are more complex today than in the time of divestment from companies associated with apartheid. Depending on your particular mix of investment tools, achieving an absolute zero fossil fuel return may be difficult. Presently we have achieved less than 1 percent exposure to fossil fuels for a majority of our holdings, and we are confident that our overall portfolio will generally not perform more poorly than the market average while holding true to our promise to divest.

Your institution must not be on the wrong side of this issue. A commitment to unimpeachable ethical standards is in keeping with the best impulses of the fund-raising profession. Also, when you make your arguments in favor of divestment, be sure to point out that since divesting Unity has not lost a dime on its investments.

I cannot comment on the reasons why Harvard University chose not to divest. What I can say is that Unity's decision to divest was both financially and morally rewarding. We believe that higher education should be focused on the renewal of civilization and sustainability of the planet regardless of a student's field of study.

Stephen Mulkey is president of Unity College.

Empty Endowed Chairs in Louisiana

A survey by the Louisiana Board of Regents has found that one-third of the endowed chairs created through a matching grant program by the state are unfilled, The Shreveport Times reported. Campus officials said that endowed chairs can be hard to fill. As a result of the survey, a new rule will bar institutions that have more than 20 percent of their chairs unfilled from adding a new endowed chair.

 

Rising Tensions on Westfield State President's Spending

Tensions surrounding the spending by Westfield State University's president have escalated over the past few days.

Evan Dobelle, president of Westfield State, is currently facing scrutiny from state officials over his widespread foreign and domestic travel, and other expenses -- sometimes without appropriate documentation. On Thursday, he missed a deadline from state officials for a full documentation of his expenses, saying he needed a little more time. Richard Freeland, the commissioner of higher education, responded on Friday by immediately suspending $197,000 in state grants to Westfield State, and seeking authorization to suspend $2 million for a science building, The Boston Globe reported.

Then on Saturday, Dobelle issued a letter accusing his board of violating state law and its bylaws in the way it has investigated his spending, The Republican reported. A spokesman said that Dobelle wants to "protect the integrity of the university against witch hunts like this in the future." The board is scheduled to hold a special meeting this month to discuss Dobelle's spending, which has included travel to trips to Thailand, Vienna, London and San Francisco.

 

Higher Education Commissioner Richard M. Freeland

U. of Arizona's foundation had stake in offshore tax shelter, is suing donor's financial advisers

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The University of Arizona's foundation had a stake in an offshore tax shelter and is now joining with a major donor to sue his financial advisers.

Penn State Offers Health Care Plan Carrot In Place of Stick

Further amending its controversial new health care policy, Pennsylvania State University announced this week that it would offer $100 to employees who complete an online wellness profile and biometric screening and agree to get a physical exam by late November. Those who already have completed their online wellness screenings also may delete them.

This summer, the university said it would punish – to the tune of $100 per month – employees who did not complete those tasks this semester, in an attempt to control ballooning health care costs through increased health awareness among those it insures. But last month, amid intense criticism from faculty, who said that questions in the third-party, online profile -- including those about mental health, alcohol use and family planning -- violated their privacy, Penn State dropped the requirement. (Businesspeople and lawmakers also had criticized the plan.)

Now it’s offering what it calls a “cash reward” for those who opt to complete screenings, or already have done so. The reward to employees whose covered spouses or domestic partners also complete the screenings is $150. "This is being done as a way of recognizing the many benefits-enrolled employees who are participating in the initiative, in light of the suspension of the penalty that originally had been tied to non-participation," Susan Basso, vice president for human resources said in a statement.

Brian Curran, professor of art history and president of the university's newly formed chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said via e-mail that that "it's obviously a good thing that they have moved from a stick to a carrot. The surcharge was much too severe and arbitrary, and it had the effect of driving many otherwise reluctant, mainly lower-paid employees, into complying with what they considered a very serious violation of their personal privacy."

 

Harvard's $6.5B Campaign. Bill Gates. A match made in heaven? (essay)

{Ring…ring…ring…}

Bill Gates: Oh, come on. Pick up!

{Ring…ring…}

BG: Last chance!

Fund-Raiser: Hello! Office of development, Harvard University. How can I help you?

BG: I want to speak with a fund-raiser.

FR: Speaking!

BG: Great. This is Bill Gates. You know, THE Bill Gates. The Microsoft guy.

FR: Yeah, O.K. Like I haven’t heard that one before.

BG: No, really. Don’t I sound like Bill Gates? Should we Skype instead?

FR: Uh, sorry, Mr. Gates. What can I do for you?

BG: I just attended Harvard’s campaign kickoff event. Very impressive stuff. $6.5 billion is a pretty big goal, wouldn’t you say?

FR: The biggest ever!

BG: Well, I’ve been giving some thought to how I can help. I’d like to begin discussing a gift.

FR: That’s fantastic! How much… er, what are you interested in supporting?

BG: I’m not sure. I’m a bit of a techie, you know, so computer science and engineering pique my interest. But if I were to go that route, I might as well donate to MIT.

FR: {nervous laugh}

BG: Kidding. I’m also into social causes and international concerns, so perhaps something at the Ed School or Kennedy School could be interesting. But of course I’m a businessman at heart, so I kind of gravitate to the B-School.

FR: Perhaps you should speak with the president or the business dean.

BG: In time. For now, I’m just exploring options. I could fund scholarships for undergrads. I did attend the College, you know.

FR: For about a week, right?

BG: Something like that. And I’m a proud alumnus.

FR: We’re proud too.

BG: In fact, I’m thankful enough to make a really significant gift to your campaign. I hear these mega-campaigns get 95 percent of their money from only 5 percent of the donors. Is that true?

FR: Absolutely. We’re not raising $6.5 billion a hundred grand at a pop.

BG: And what’s the highest gift you’re expecting?

FR: Lead gifts can total 15-20 percent of the goal.

BG: So that’s, let me see… carry the four… about a billion dollars?

FR: Suppose so.

BG: Wouldn’t that be a record too?

FR: Sure would!

BG: Hmmm…. So back to the B-School. What if I gave half a billion to rename it?

FR: Say what?

BG: The Gates School of Business. Think it would fly?

FR: I… uh… don’t think so.

BG: Why not? I could rename Cleveland for that amount.

FR: Harvard Business School has more brand cachet than Cleveland.

BG: A cool billion? Would they go for it then?

FR: I’m not sure the name is for sale. Even for that sum. We have too much brand equity at stake.

BG: But I’d be adding value to the brand! Gates… Harvard… business. Come on now! I bet my pal Warren would think it’s a great idea.

FR: Get him to match your gift and maybe we’ll talk. Meanwhile, how about naming a building?

BG: For a billion? Must be one hell of a building. How about the Gates Campus at Harvard Business School?

FR: Sounds like we’ve built a fortress to keep people out.

BG: Nah… I still think naming the school is the way to go. Everything has a price.

FR: That’s for others to decide.

BG: Two billion… Gates University… hmmm…. Sorry, was that out loud?

FR: I’ll patch you through to the president’s office. Thanks for calling, Mr. Gates!

BG: How much to rename the Ivy League? Hmmm….

FR: Transferring!

Mark J. Drozdowski is director of university communications at the University of New Haven. This is the latest installment of an occasional humor column, Special Edification.

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St. Bonaventure University and Hilbert College ponder 'strategic alliance'

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Citing looming problems, St. Bonaventure University and Hilbert College, two colleges in Western New York, explore options to work together.

 

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