Concerning donations, column inaccurate

In the Sept. 7 column, “The Dangers of Private Funding,” there were several inaccuracies about private support of the University that I wish to clear up.
First of all, the University and the Foundation, by Regents policy, count as gifts only those donations where there is clear intent from the donor “to give away something of value for the betterment of the University.” If services or property or propriety research or something else is received in exchange, a donation cannot and is not counted as a gift.
The recently reported increase in donations to the University was a record of these gifts, given for the betterment of the University and of its students and faculty. One can assume a lot about why people make a gift to the University. But in our research, donors give because the University made such a difference in their lives, they want to help students, honor a faculty member or promote research in a field that is relevant or of interest to them.
The Cargill gift, contrary to the columnist’s charge, was given to advance microbial and plant genomics research and to do so at a public university where everyone has access to the research. Cargill has no more access to this research than any other person or organization. The columnist may not want to see this research conducted at all, but that’s another issue.
Elmer Andersen — a former governor, University regent and University alumnus who retired as CEO of H.B. Fuller more than 25 years ago — donated his library of rare and unusual books to the University because he wanted them placed “where they were truly wanted.” Many of our donors agree with Andersen that “it is difficult to think that an investment in our youth and our future could be better placed than in our University.”
I agree that higher education should be a high priority of our state and that state funding of the University should reflect this. But throughout the University’s 150-year history, private donations have been needed to provide scholarships for students; fellowships for graduate students; books, equipment and other materials for learning and research; and for valued facilities not funded by the state, such as the Weisman Art Museum, Ted Mann Concert Hall, Northrop Auditorium, etc. That’s the reality.
While the $234 million we raised last year was a significant increase over the prior year, it is less than 10 percent of the University’s annual revenues. Compared with other U.S. universities, the University of Minnesota ranks 18th in private support. Private gifts from donors who give for the betterment of the University are critical if the University is going to achieve the level of excellence we all want to see in our University and if students are going to be prepared to succeed in the new knowledge economy. This is what Campaign Minnesota is about.

Gerald B. Fischer is the president and chief executive officer of the University of Minnesota Foundation. Send comments to [email protected]