Oct 132007

Naomi Schaefer Riley has an article at the WSJ about how rich people have trouble giving money to universities. Well, the universities will gladly take the money, but they are not willing to use it to fund educational programs that the leftwing establishment types don’t like. Example:

The Robertson family at Princeton has not been so lucky. In 1961, Charles and Marie Robertson (an heiress to the A&P supermarket fortune), donated $35 million to the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University to prepare students for careers in government service. The Robertsons’ descendants now claim that the university has diverted the funds to projects completely unrelated to this mission. In 2002, they sued Princeton to reclaim the endowment, now estimated to be nearly $500 million. Five years later, they still haven’t gotten a refund.

Apparently there is now an organization called the Center for Excellence in Higher Education which will help donors get their funds used for reform:

Along with John M. Templeton Jr. and the John William Pope Foundation, Mr. Marcus has provided the seed money ($5 million) for the Center for Excellence in Higher Education (CEHE). The Indianapolis-based center, launched last month, aims to help donors “use philanthropy as a lever to reform higher education,” says Frederic Fransen, its executive director. Reform includes a greater emphasis on core curricula, a free-market understanding of economics, a more balanced approach to politics, affordable tuition, tenured faculty who spend more time in the classroom, greater transparency in university governance, and an end to grade inflation.

I suppose that might be the thing for some donors. But here is a better idea for all you millionaires and billionaires who rely on me for advice: Give your money to FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. It is working to protect free speech in academia. The academy was once a bulwark of free speech, but has now become one of its biggest threats. The way things are going, there soon won’t be any universities where one would be proud to have one’s name on a new research building. But a few major donations to FIRE or other such advocacy organizations could have a powerful effect in preserving our once-great university system.