Corporate donations abound at U

This is the third in a series of five stories examining how corporations influence the University. Look for a story Thursday about the University Foundation.

Jerret Raffety

In the last 15 years, corporations have made considerable donations toward building projects at the University.

As a result, some buildings are named after corporate donors. But some students said they wonder just what motivates these corporations and what that means for the integrity of a public institution.

Corporations give 25 percent to 30 percent of the gifts the University receives, said Martha Douglas, communications director of the University Foundation.

Gerald Fischer, vice president and chief executive officer of the foundation, said building projects enhance the educational experience with better facilities.

And corporations could benefit from better-educated students, he said.

Officially, the University Board of Regents policy on gift solicitation states the University will only accept gifts that are “consistent with the University’s overall mission.”

The policy also states that while tax benefits might accrue for private donors to the University, the donor must have a charitable intent as a primary motive for making the gift.

Top University donor 3M said it gives most of its gifts to sciences, engineering and business, said Barbara Kaufmann, manager of educational contributions at 3M.

“Those are the disciplines that are important to the ‘U of M’ as well as a technology company such as 3M,” Kaufmann said.

Mark Murphy, executive director for Cargill Inc.’s charitable division, the Cargill Foundation, said the University is an important investment for economic development.

Donations to research and related building projects at the University can help to create new industries and provide new technologies and jobs, he said.

Cargill Inc. gave the University $10 million toward the Cargill Building for Microbial and Plant Genomics in St. Paul in 1999.

Fischer said corporations are generally interested in donating to as many areas as possible, instead of putting all of their funds into one large donation. The goal is to affect as many people as possible, he said.

Student opinions vary when it comes to corporate donations for building projects at the University.

Some students said they feel that by accepting corporate donations, the University is doing a service for students.

“It’s always good when a university can secure outside funds rather than relying on students and the state for funds,” said Aaron Solem, an officer in the Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow and a second-year College of Liberal Arts student.

Tom Meyer, president of the Campus Republicans and a second-year neuroscience student, said private funding means lower taxes and student fees, which are “two things central to our conservative mission.”

If a company puts money into a school, it is more likely to hire students who graduate from that school, Meyer said.

“To me, it’s a win-win situation, because the school gets better facilities and the students don’t have to pay for it,” he said.

Andrew Gettis, president of the Young Constitutionalists and a fourth-year College of Biological Sciences student, said it would be irresponsible for the University to reject such gifts.

But some students said they feel it is the responsibility of the state to provide funding for such building projects.

Matt Tajbakhsh, a political science junior and co-chairman of the College Greens, said he doesn’t agree with corporate donations.

“Rather than this money being seen as charitable, I feel that it is their obligation to give back to the society through higher corporate taxes that they have taken so much from,” he said.

Shaun Laden, affirmative action officer for the University DFL and a fourth-year CLA student, said the majority of the funding has to come from the public.

“This is a commitment that the current and previous governors, as well as the Legislature, were not willing to make,” Laden said.

Other students said they feel that although these donations are not supposed to be for the donor’s gain, corporations still benefit directly from them.

“Buildings like the Cargill Building for Microbial and Plant Genomics are now a form of advertising because a corporate name is attached to a University facility,” said Andrew Dahl, treasurer for the College Greens and a first-year CLA student.

Corporate names can be found on and in several buildings across campus.

The Carlson School of Management building has 68 separate classrooms named after corporations, said Chris Mayr, chief development officer with the Carlson School.

The naming was the school’s idea, not something the corporations suggested to advertise themselves, he said.

“(The Carlson School) felt obligated to recognize the philanthropy of the private donors by offering the naming option,” Mayr said.

Donors chose which rooms bore their names based on how much money they donated – donors who gave more got to choose before those who gave less.

Some students said they feel advertisement isn’t the only benefit corporate donors receive from building donations.

Ty Moore, community liaison for the Socialist Alternative Club, said corporate donations damage the nature of a public university.

“Any time you rely on any private sources of funding, you inevitably compromise the public and democratic nature of the facility,” he said.