The Spirit of Giving…Wisely

To give, or not to give?

That is the question raised by my boss, Jane Shaw, in her recent article, “Should I Give to Wellesley?” She describes her growing hesitancy to contribute to her alma mater’s endowment, although she has done so most years in the past. This is in large part because Wellesley’s philosophy is increasingly in conflict with her own libertarian tendencies. As the American academy moves ever to the left politically, her dilemma is becoming all too common. After all, why would any rational person contribute financially to an organization that scoffs at and undermines his or her own beliefs?

But perhaps Jane was asking the wrong question. What she might have asked instead is whether there is some organization or program at Wellesley that will promote her values and try to counter the collectivist thinking that currently dominates the campus.    

The answer is yes. Almost every college has, at the very least, one or two student organizations that work the free-market side of the street. Some, such as UNC-Chapel Hill, have a dozen or more. Even Jane’s old school has a campus Libertarian Club, as well as a Republican Club.

These student organizations perform a great many roles. Not only do they provide a forum for alternative voices on campus, but they can let the outside world know what is occurring on their campus. Perhaps most important of all, they give the next generation of conservative leaders a chance to develop their speaking, writing, and organizing skills.

One thing every liberty-minded student organization can use is cash for holding events and contests, paying speakers’ honorariums, and publishing alternative newspapers.

Another place to send your money is to seek out a campus center or institute with a free market or traditional bent. They have been popping up on—and off—liberal campuses all over the country. Some, such as the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton, have established themselves as key participants in the dialogue on their campuses. Others, such as the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (initially at Hamilton College), have survived resistance from their schools and fought to maintain their independence by moving off-campus.

Such centers can almost seem like sanctuaries in a hostile land for the conservative scholar. If classical liberalism (the kind proposed by Adam Smith) is to reclaim some part of academia, these centers will likely play a significant role. And they can always use more support.   

Some potential donors have something specific in mind for their money, such as an area of research they would like to see explored, or a particular subject they would like taught more. In such cases, it is possible to craft your gift to do just that. However, this probably isn’t the best tactic for small donors, since it can require consulting fees or legal counsel. One highly experienced consultant in tailoring donations is Fred Fransen of Donor Advising, Research & Educational Services (DARES).

There is still another possible way to make sure your money matters (if you are not completely wed to your alma mater). Let’s say that you graduated from a prestigious private college such as Harvard or a large flagship state university such as the University of Texas. Harvard’s endowment is approximately $25.5 billion; the University of Texas system’s is roughly $11.1 billion.  Exactly what is your $100, $1,000, or, frankly, even $1 million going to do for these institutions that they can’t already do without your contribution?

But there are a great many small schools across the country where a few dollars can make a big difference. Some are desperate for every penny. Others are solvent, but can make major improvements with a relatively small amount of money.

Some focus on traditional learning or other specific disciplines that might match your own interests. And there are schools that bravely stand against the high tide of big-government bureaucracy. The best known is Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan, which uses its considerable endowment to self-fund scholarships and student loans, thereby avoiding federal financial aid and all the heavy-handed government mandates that come with it. Others employ similar self-funding mechanisms to maintain their independence, such as Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania, and the College at Southeastern (the undergraduate school of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

Then there are a few schools like Belmont Abbey College. This devoutly Catholic school near Charlotte, North Carolina has refused to bend its principles to pay for contraceptives in its employee health-insurance plan, despite threats from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Last but not least (or at least I’d like to think so), there are independent non-profit organizations that are fighting to reform higher education. Since the academic foxes are already in full control of the university henhouse, it is paramount that outside observers keep the pressure on by serving as watchdogs, policy analysts, and innovators. Besides the Pope Center, some of the major higher education reform organizations are the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, the National Association of Scholars, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and Minding the Campus.

So, with the giving season soon to end (at least for tax purposes), take a moment and think about your annual college donation before writing a check. If giving to dear old Wassamatta U. no longer serves your interests, why make it richer and more powerful? Consider instead the many deserving groups in the world of higher education—student organizations, campus centers, colleges that follow their principles instead of chasing the quick buck, and organizations working for reform—that will work to preserve your values and interests. And if you’re unsure whether an organization exists that will suit your wishes, you can contact the Pope Center and we will do the research to find the one that comes the closest. Happy giving!