I have been a college president for over a decade now. During my career I’ve not shied away from using the bully pulpit to address a number of issues. This includes questioning obscene gifts wealthy individuals have given to obscenely wealthy universities that primarily serve an obscenely wealthy student body.
Eight years later, Harvard University is in the news as alumnus John Paulson donated $400 million, the largest single gift to the oldest university in the United States and richest university on the planet.
But something is different today. A chorus of people from diverse backgrounds publicly expressed consternation about this gift. Some argued that gifts to the wealthy are not charity. Some lamented that the taxpayers pay for the tax breaks for the wealthy. Others still, notably Malcolm Gladwell, highlighted pressing issues we see across the globe and questioned how anyone could make this kind of gift today.
This is good. Diverse voices are now beginning to think critically about issues of equality and wealth. Whenever I’ve raised the issues, predictable criticisms come in. They tell me I’m just a hater because my institution is a poor performer (as they compare underresourced colleges against overly resourced ones as if they are equal).
This is just like saying Slovenia performed poorly in the 2014 Winter Olympics since the U.S. won 28 medals to its 8. Yet in medals per capita they were 4th (we were 21st), and in medals per GDP they were 2nd (we were 23rd). Slovenia did more with less (just like historically black colleges).
Others ask their favorite version of the “why do we need black colleges” question in this era of resegregated K-12 schools and overwhelmingly segregated neighborhoods, where all of our taxes support public, historically black elementary, middle and high schools. And yet these same folks were silent when black Harvard students through the I Too Am Harvard campaign complained about the racism they experience daily.
Hedge fund managers defended Paulson, arguing that giving resources to the brightest Americans will have a multiplier effect for the nation. The recent survey of the Harvard graduating class of 2015 indicated that a third of them are going into their top two career choices: finance and consulting. If multiplier means personal wealth, that defense of the gift is correct.
Some praised the gift because it will support research and innovation that can benefit humanity. Of course this is true, but if we don’t address key issues like K-12 education and job prospects for all, only the wealthy will benefit from these great advances.
Other argued that the gift would also be for scholarships and financial aid. In fact, when the pushback began both Paulson and Harvard reiterated this point, noting that low-income students could attend for free. It is on this point where I realize that we have much more work to do.
Here are the facts. Harvard’s total cost annually is $62,000. Yes, that’s just the sticker price, but when more than 40 percent of your student body receives no aid at all, we’re not talking about a needy population. Just 17 percent of the student body receives Pell Grants. At my institution, Dillard University, 98 percent of my students receive some form of aid, including 80 percent receiving the Pell Grant.
The Harvard Crimsonreported that in the recent freshman class, the average student comes from a family with between $125,000 and $250,000 in annual income, and 14 percent have household income above $500,000, placing them among the wealthiest in America. The median family income in New Orleans, where I work, is $35,000, and for my students is $31,000. The writers for The Crimson said it best in describing the class of 2017: “In Harvard Yard, 14 percent are the 1 percent.”
This gift increases Harvard’s endowment by a little over 1 percent. For me? It would increase it by over 500 percent. In fact, with a $400 million gift, I could use a 5 percent spending rate and pay the tuition and fees for all 1,200 Dillard students -- with money left over.
And that’s where we have to mature as a nation. Mega-gifts to the mega-rich can best be described as trendy. Everyone likes a winner and to be associated with a great brand. Harvard is so good they don’t need a tagline or branding campaign. If they did I imagine Dave Chappelle yelling, “Harvard. We’re rich, (rhyming bad word)!”
In fact, the key defense for these trendy gifts is always, “It’s his money.” I agree 100 percent. Paulson and Harvard only need to say that Harvard is his university, nurtured him, and he is blessed to do whatever he can for something he loves like family. They could simply drop the mic and move on.
This is in fact the best, most succinct and sincere answer they can and should give. Anything else is crap.
But when do the Paulsons of the nation transform the lives of people they may never meet? I tell donors when they support a Dillard student, they aren’t just supporting that student or changing their trajectory -- they have transformed generations of a family. It means a student on full scholarship doesn’t have to work two or three jobs to continue to support the family back home. It means a student can accept an unpaid Washington internship rather than cobble together summer jobs to pay tuition that is a fraction of Harvard’s.
The discussion around this new gift is encouraging. A new level of consciousness is growing. Hopefully we’ll have a new level of courage among ultrawealthy individuals, a level that allows them to share their resources with those who might not look like them or share their background or experiences.
People who, with the right investment, produce a generational multiplier effect that a gift to Harvard could never produce. This requires a transformational love, a love for those we do not know and will never meet.
Walter M. Kimbrough is the president of Dillard University.
On Friday, June 6, 2014, the United Negro College Fund accepted a $25 million donation from the Koch brothers. I urge the historic organization to consider giving it back. This money is tainted and there will be strings attached.
I authored a book titled Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund in 2007. The book tells the story of the creation of the UNCF and its delicate relationship with white philanthropy, mainly the Rockefeller family. Research tells us that white industrial philanthropists supported black colleges in order to educate a semi-skilled labor force for their businesses and those of their friends, and to control the education of black people. The money created opportunities during desperate times for some black students at UNCF institutions, but that doesn’t make the motives irrelevant. Given these historical motives, I’m compelled to ask: What are the motives of the Koch brothers, given their past affiliations and activities?
Since its establishment in 1944, the UNCF has worked across party lines and has taken money from people of all political persuasions. They have often had little choice, given the lack of access to capital that African Americans have had throughout American history. However, in the 1970s, under the leadership of Vernon Jordan and Christopher Edley Sr., the UNCF began to push back against the control that came bundled with white philanthropic support – control that manifested in the organization not being able to write a check for over $250 without the authorization of Rockefeller’s associates. The UNCF took on a stronger position, began hiring more black fund-raisers, and launched an edgy Ad Council campaign – "A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste" – that pushed back against American racism and the oppression of blacks.
Alternative Point of View
The UNCF's goal of helping students at black colleges requires a focus on the value of philanthropy, not the politics of the donor, writes Brian K. Bridges. Read more.
Times have changed. Taking a donation from the Koch brothers hammers away at the integrity of the UNCF. Yes, $25 million is alluring and could be used to help black students. However, the costs are too high. The end does not justify the means. The Koch brothers have a considerable history of supporting efforts to disenfranchise black voters through their backing of the American Legislative Exchange Council. In addition, the Koch brothers have given huge amounts of money to Tea Party candidates who oppose many policies, initiatives, and laws that empower African Americans.
The UNCF has also given the Koch brothers two seats on the five-person committee that determines who will receive the scholarship money that the Koch brothers donated. Specifically, “An advisory board consisting of two UNCF representatives, two Koch representatives, and one faculty member from an existing school will be created to review scholarship applications and select recipients.” This is dangerous and gives the Koch brothers too much influence.
I urge the UNCF to consider returning this money to the Koch brothers. Yes, I know the organization needs it, but the cost is too high. Call Warren Buffet and beg him to give you the money instead. Call Oprah and ask her to help. Call every wealthy celebrity/athlete/business person who cares about education and the rights of African Americans and ask them to give. Make a plea to every black college alumnus, noting that you need him or her to save the UNCF’s integrity.
As designed by Tuskegee University President Frederick D. Patterson, the United Negro College Fund is a hallmark of African-American ingenuity and entrepreneurship. It is the organization that taught all of us that a mind is a terrible thing to Waste. Please join me in letting the UNCF know that an organization’s integrity is also a terrible thing to lose.
Oh, and while you are at it, please make a donation to the UNCF and support historically black colleges and African-American students. It’s not right to complain unless you put your money where your mouth is. I’m making my donation right now.
Marybeth Gasman is professor of higher education in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. She also serves as director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (John Hopkins University Press, 2007).
UNCF, the nation’s largest minority scholarship organization, recently announced a $25 million grant from longtime supporters Koch Industries and the Charles Koch Foundation. The grant will support nearly 3,000 merit-based scholarships for undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students and offer $4 million in financial relief for the 37 UNCF-member historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) that were affected by the Parent PLUS loan crisis.
It’s important to note that for over 70 years, UNCF has welcomed all donors. Our only litmus test has been: Do you share a deep commitment to our mission — a mission designed to create better futures for African Americans by helping students realize their dream of a college education?
For those of us at UNCF who devote all our time to helping young African Americans realize their dreams of a college education, we are grateful for this grant as it represents a major opportunity to support our students through college and prepare them for careers and leadership after they graduate.
As the head of UNCF’s Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute, my focus has always been on understanding what it takes, financially and academically, for our students to succeed in and after college. Our research has identified critical findings about the impact of UNCF scholarships on the lives of students. As our most recent major grantor, the Koch partnership is designed to maximize these findings.
It’s important to understand who our students are and why scholarships are so important to them. Their need for assistance is 29 percent greater than other African-American college students – the racial group which is already the highest recipients of Pell Grants. At the same time, our students demonstrate enormous persistence, despite these lack of resources. Almost all first-year UNCF scholarship recipients -- 94 percent -- return for their sophomore year. 70 percent graduate within six years -- far exceeding the national average for all students.
Remarkably, a $5,000 scholarship awarded to an African-American freshman increases his or her likelihood of graduating by over seven percentage points. Looking at the big picture, an across-the-board rise in graduation rates of seven percentage points would graduate 16,000 more African Americans every year, as evidenced in our recent report: "Building Better Futures: The Value of a UNCF Investment."
The UNCF/Koch Scholars Program was created with this research in mind and includes 1,400 annual awards of $5,000 for undergraduate students. In addition, the activities of the program, focused on innovation and entrepreneurialism, are designed to meet the expressed desires of our students. Twenty-two percent of all our students major in business. Many of them tell us they are interested in starting their own businesses. Our students are hungry for opportunities to succeed in their communities, and many will start their own enterprises.
The UNCF/Koch partnership also provides critical support to our HBCUs, which have been hard-hit by recent changes to the Parent PLUS loan program. HBCUs – already a best buy in higher education, with lower tuitions than comparable four-year private colleges – play a vital role in providing educational opportunities for millions of minorities, many of whom currently come from low-income families and are first-generation college students. Though they represented only three percent of all four‐ and two‐year colleges and universities in 2012, HBCUs enrolled 10 percent of African American undergrads, produced 19 percent of the nation's African‐American bachelor’s degrees, and generated 27 percent of African-American bachelors’ degrees in STEM fields.
As we worked with Koch Industries and the Charles Koch Foundation to develop this program, they also brought deep expertise from their longstanding commitment to higher education. The Charles Koch Foundation currently supports 340 programs at more than 250 colleges and universities across the country – both public and private schools, Ivy Leagues and HBCUs.
This year, UNCF awarded $100 million in scholarships to 12,000 deserving students, yet we still must turn down 9 out of every 10 qualified applicants. That is why we are asking all Americans to join in supporting UNCF and young African Americans who want a better future for themselves and their communities. These students deserve our support and we hope more Americans – of all political stripes and views -- will step up to meet this great need.
Brian K. Bridges is the executive director of UNCF’s Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute, which has produced considerable research on the value proposition of HBCUs and African American parent perceptions of education reform. Forthcoming reports investigate HBCU graduation rates and UNCF HBCU costs. For links to their reports please visit www.uncf.org/fdpri.
Recently the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education released a well-produced video celebrating 220 years of alumni associations and the 100 of the Association of Alumni Secretaries, which merged into the American Alumni Council in 1927, and eventually became CASE in 1974.
As a faculty member whose primary line of research looks at philanthropy and fund-raising in American higher education and a former advancement officer, I was excited to watch the video when it hit my Facebook feed. While the photo and archival document montage in the video does a nice job highlighting many of the “firsts” in alumni engagement, I was shocked by what could be viewed as a whitewashing of this history.
The video neglects to look at various groups, individuals, and organizations that were pivotal in the history of alumni engagement that happen to be black or were working at historically black colleges and universities. For example, where is James E. Stamps, who founded the United Negro College Fund's (UNCF) National Alumni Council in 1946, or Walter Washington who founded the National Pre-Alumni Council in 1958 to engage students? We see equivalent people and organizations to Stamp, Washington, and the UNCF throughout the montage, and the absence of their acknowledgement is palpable.
This lack of diversity and recognition of alumni engagement strategies outside of the white majority is very concerning. Even more disconcerting is that CASE, the field’s leading professional organization, committed this glaring oversight. However, I believe that this video is indicative of how most intuitions of higher education still view their engagement and solicitation work — through a white, wealthy, male, heterosexual donor lens.
There are myriad reasons that perpetuate the lack of diversity — and they need to change. Here are just two examples. First, development offices are very white. While no comprehensive census of the field has taken place, the Association for Fundraising Professionals, while looking at nonprofit fund-raisers more broadly, reported this summer that approximately 90 percent of its members identify as white. Similarly, Jeanne Bell and Marla Cornelius (2013) found that 88 percent of development directors were white. Second, most advancement professionals still employ strategies that are successful with the white majority and assume that they will work with other diverse groups. There are cultural differences that dictate different strategies.
Many colleges and universities have taken strides when it comes to diversity and inclusion within its alumni engagement and programming. We have seen the creation of official affinity groups and clubs for black, Latino, Asian, and LGBTQ and ally alumni at many institutions. Some colleges and universities are quicker to adopt this strategy than others. It is important to note, that at some institutions these affinity groups have existed "off-campus" and outside of the university’s alumni association for decades, often without administrators knowing or showing an interest in partnering.
Affinity groups do help engage alumni who might have negative views or past experiences with their alma mater. For example, in my research with Jason C. Garvey on LGBTQ philanthropy, we found that alumni who were members of their alma mater’s LGBTQ affinity group mentioned that because of the group’s existence and attending their events, they felt reconnected to their alma mater. This feeling of reconnection was cited as increasing their interest in donating to their university. Marybeth Gasman and Nelson Bowman (2013) similarly found this when researching alumni of color.
While the move to create affinity groups and clubs is important, an institution’s alumni engagement is falling short if that is the only tactic employed in its diversity and inclusion strategy. There are a number of strategies that institutions should implement to make their engagement and fund-raising more inclusive:
Colleges and universities should acknowledge their past mistakes. We know that all college campuses have their histories, many of which might include segregation, quota systems, and less than welcoming campus environments. The lack of an affirming campus climate (or even the perception as such) is a reason that some alumni choose not to give — or to give less generously — to their alma mater. When engaging alumni of color, LGBTQ alumni, or others who might have endured a difficult campus climate, it is important to acknowledge the past and indicate how the campus has changed since the alumnus or alumna was a student. Traditions are important in fund-raising for colleges and universities. However, alumni offices should think about how some traditions, like large social events and perhaps fraternities and sororities, might have been sources of exclusion for some alumni. Therefore, their uses and imagery should be used with caution when engaging alumni.
Institutions need to truly engage their donor’s whole self in their solicitations. Advancement officers often speak about the importance of donor-centric fund-raising strategies, where the donor’s interests and experiences are used to align the donor’s philanthropic goals with the institution's fund-raising priorities. However, the vast majority of colleges and universities have an unwillingness to collect or record LGBTQ demographic data, even when offered by the alumnus or alumna — thereby raising questions about those institutions’ commitment to donor-centric fund-raising. The institutions often mentioned a lack of comfort in collecting this information — even when the question is voluntary, as all demographic (gender and race/ethnicity) typically are. However, in my and Jason C. Garvey’s work on LGBTQ alumni giving, it is important to note that the vast majority of lesbian and gay alumni that we interviewed said that they were willing to share their sexual orientation with their alma mater and wanted the institutions to update them about LGBTQ issues on campus and/or hear about alumni events that connected LGBTQ alumni.
Advancement officers should use data to their advantage not to their demise. The power of a good database, strong data, and a person who can run analysis is extreme. However, data mining and misinterpretation of analytics can also send development officers down wrong paths. It is common knowledge that the most successful fund-raising strategies involve donor-centric, personal solicitations that take into account the prospective donor’s interests. However, it is impossible to personally ask each prospective donor. Therefore, using data can help fund-raisers understand individuals scheduled for mass solicitation and create dynamic segmentations that can make the annual fund more personal. However, with the power of data, comes responsibility — especially if an institution is committed to diversity and inclusion. The goals of efficiency (minimizing fund-raising costs) and effectiveness (maximizing growth in giving) can lead some to interpret data analysis in a way that suggests that advancement offices no longer solicit and engage a certain segment of their alumni community. Before deciding that those who have not given are not generous and are not interested in supporting the university, take a step back and see if there is something more that the data is suggesting. For example, if data mining suggests that a large segment of alumni of color are no longer engaged, institutions should use this as a reflexive moment to ask: "How are we not serving this population? What can we do to better engage them?" There is a growing body of literature that looks at philanthropic giving within communities of color and other nontraditional donor groups and how these communities’ philanthropic motivations differ from the white majority. Understanding these differences is important so that institutions can engage their alumni in a more culturally sensitive way.
Fund-raisers should develop culturally sensitive solicitation strategies. Lori Spears (2008), in her research, found that when institutions used the same strategy to increase alumni giving for majority populations as with minority populations, the initiatives that were effective for white alumni were not effective with other populations. Given that we know that minority communities are generous -- in fact the black community gives more as a percentage of disposable income than American whites -- when engagement strategies do not seem to work, it is not because of the donor; rather it is because of the way they were asked. For example, drawing on the work of other scholars we know that many philanthropists of color are not drawn to unrestricted annual funds or endowment gifts — they like to see their gifts used in specific ways and in the present. This stems from a historical distrust between communities of color and mainstream nonprofits and higher education. Therefore, college and university development officers should think about how they frame all solicitations from the annual fund to major gifts.
Institutions should realize that diversity is not a stand-alone campaign priority; rather it should be part of all fund-raising initiatives. Recently, I was approached by a university asking me for advice about its campaign priorities as officials were preparing for the public launch of their billion-dollar-plus campaign. They had hired campaign consultants who tested their cases for support with potential donors. Their diversity initiative did not resonate in the focus groups. This is because by creating a stand-alone diversity initiative, they marginalized the importance of diversity in the overall campaign priorities. However, had they spoken about the importance of diversity within all of the other campaign priorities (e.g., faculty resources — being able to recruit and retain the strongest and most diverse faculty; student scholarships — being able to support high-performing students regardless of financial need while creating a diverse learning community, etc.) the diversity initiatives would have resonated.
The need for colleges and universities to fundraise is greater than ever and there is no sign that it will lessen. American higher education once saw philanthropy as a means to separate eminence from excellence. Today, voluntary support is needed to simply make budget and provide students with access. As the demographics of the United States change and university alumni bases become more diverse, institutions must move beyond their white-wealthy-heterosexual-male-centric solicitation and engagement strategies and fully embrace and practice culturally sensitive and inclusive fund-raising, in order to ensure the needed fund-raising income for generations to come.
Noah D. Drezner is an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Maryland at College Park, where he is also an affiliate faculty member of the Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership. Previously, he was a development officer at the University of Rochester.