Endowments increase as funding falls

Michelle Kibiger

While the tenure debate rages and professors fear the elimination of entire departments, some University faculty members and administrators are working quietly to insulate their disciplines from the future’s uncertainties.
For example, the Jewish Studies program last month received $2 million to establish a permanent professorship in hopes of ensuring the program’s future at the University.
In the past 11 years, private sector endowments at the University have increased in number from 17 to 241. Since 1988 alone, 114 endowed chairs and professorships, which are guaranteed to last for a set period of time, have come to the school.
In the broader context of change at the University, officials view philanthropy and private sector investment as a way to guarantee certain disciplines will exist for future generations. They say the University’s existence as a whole also depends on support from the community.
Investors can either set up permanently endowed positions or positions with more limited terms. A minimum of $1 million is required to endow a permanent chairmanship. For permanent professorships, investors must give at least $500,000.
However, investors can limit the terms of an endowment by the way they fashion their gifts. An individual or group can establish a chairmanship by giving $100,000 per year for at least 10 years. Along the same lines, anyone can create a professorship by giving $50,000 per year for at least 10 years.
In either case, the position would last for as long as the contributions continue.
The Berman chair, established last month in Jewish Studies, will be a permanent position because of the size of the gift. In addition, the Classical and Near Eastern Studies department is actively seeking support for a similar position in New Testament and Christian Studies.
William Malandra, chairman of the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies, said the permanence of endowed chairs is important because it guarantees that a discipline will be taught perpetually at the University despite the popular interests of the time.
“Imagine an English department that would be filled with people that have no interest in Shakespeare,” Malandra said. “Then there would be no English department to teach Shakespeare.” He said that such a situation may seem absurd, but could happen if no safeguards are put in place.
The effort to expand the number of endowments at the University began in January 1985 with the advent of the three-year Minnesota Campaign. Increasing the number of endowed chairs was a primary goal of the campaign, which the University Foundation began as part of former University President Ken Keller’s Commitment to Focus plan to reform the University.
Before the campaign began, the University had a total of 17 endowments. At the campaign’s conclusion in 1988, the University had acquired 127 total endowed positions, which has grown to 241 today.
Keller’s plan aimed to make the University one of the top five public schools in the nation. Nearly 10 years later, University officials still see how community support is integral to the existence of the school.
University President Nils Hasselmo’s University 2000 plan discusses increasing the number and quality of applicable professional programs, which can directly meet state and national job needs.
At the same time, U2000 commits the University to providing a broad-based liberal arts education, including in-depth — and often very specialized — scholarly studies.
Balancing these interests has become increasingly difficult for the school as public funding for higher education has decreased. Since 1990, state funding for the University has gone down nearly 10 percent and federal dollars to the school have decreased slightly.
At the same time, private contributions have increased, but only about 3 percent over the past five years.
Gerald Fischer, president of the University Foundation, said Minnesotans’ philanthropy, despite controversies at the University, has been remarkable. However, he said keeping donor confidence is important in raising support.
As a result, officials in several University colleges are trying to educate the public about the importance of community support.
Sue Klaseus, director of external affairs for the Carlson School of Management, said the decline in public funding makes private contributions important to maintain the University’s quality of education.
Fischer stressed that private sector contributions are only a supplement to core University funding. “As a public University, what private sector support does is create, maintain and expand the margin of excellence at the University.”
However, the various colleges at the University are not necessarily employing varied strategies to elicit private-sector support.
Mary Hicks, director of external relations for the College of Liberal Arts, said that her office focuses its energies on reaching individual supporters, particularly alumni. She said that the liberal arts have often excited students during their time at the school.
“I think private philanthropy at the University is essential to keep the University going, not just the liberal arts,” Hicks said. “People give money to things they care about and that they are passionate about, regardless of how popular (programs) are.”
Klaseus said the Carlson School is making a concerted effort to reach both external and internal supporters of the University. She said corporate relationships with the University are strong, but individual relationships may be harder to build.
“We probably have a very special and immediate link to the business community,” said Susan Shields, director of corporate relations for the Carlson School. She said Carlson School Dean David Kidwell has worked to raise awareness about what the school can offer potential investors.
“The dean’s conscious involvement of going to the customer and asking them what they think of the school and how we can improve” has improved awareness of what the Carlson School can offer businesses, she said.
Hicks said that although the benefits of the liberal arts are more abstract, the liberal arts make enough of an impact to prompt alumni to give back to the University.
“What we hear back from our alumni is that they have learned the importance of that broad-based liberal arts education, and that has contributed to their success,” she said.
However, officials do not feel certain programs at the University will cease to exist without private sector support. Hicks said she doesn’t think the University would ever want to be in the position of eliminating programs because it can’t find public support for them.
“We would always want to have some things because it’s a part of our mission,” she said, speaking about the University’s history as a land-grant institution.
Malandra said his and other departments make strong contributions to the overall curriculum of CLA. He said that the classics department teaches classes that represent the basis for the humanistic study of Western Civilization.
“Any University of this size would be going down the wrong road to eliminate these studies from the curriculum,” he said.