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How to Donate to a Dying University

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Author’s Note:  The present column was inspired by Jim Nelson Black, author of Free-fall of the American University.

From time to time I am asked whether conservative donors should simply boycott leftist universities like my own. The answer is emphatically “no.” If conservative donors all stopped giving, all donations would be liberal donations. That is simply common sense. There is another, better solution born of common sense. It might not have worked a few years ago. But times have changed. The economy has tanked and it really could work today. It is a variation on the idea of directed, or contingent, donations. This involves giving money that is directed towards accomplishing a particular purpose on campus. In other words, it is money given contingent upon the institution’s promise to spend it in a particular manner.

The idea of simple directed donations is a good one. But it does not always work. Some years ago, a Yale University graduate tried to donate 20 million dollars toward launching a curriculum centered on the study of Western civilization. After several years of infighting and turmoil with the Yale Department of History, no progress was made toward getting the curriculum moving. So the donor ended up demanding and getting his 20 million dollars back.

Just a few years ago, a similar effort was made at UNC Chapel Hill. It was a disaster that did not even get as far as the effort at Yale. Progressives organized to successfully prevent a center for the study of Western civilization before the effort really got off the ground. As a result, UNC Chapel Hill lost a lot of money and a lot of potential prestige. It was all because of a few tenured radicals committed to destroying the Western notion of the pursuit of truth through reasoned discourse.

Perhaps some professors and administrators resent these directed donations because they think they are being told what to do. That is both a childish and selfish motivation. But that is why a hybrid between the traditional donation and a directed donation might work better. Let me illustrate with a few hypothetical examples:

  • An alumnus wants to donate $160,000 to his alma mater in New York. A conservative professor wants to write a book on the history of doomsday prophecies in the natural sciences. Specifically, he wants to write about incompatible predictions used to secure government grants. His book will feature numerous scientists including one who predicted a “coming ice age” to secure federal grant money in the 1970s and then predicted widespread global warming to secure grant federal grant money in the 1990s. The donor offers $80,000 in undirected funds for the university. The other $80,000 sends the conservative professor on sabbatical to write his book. The book is quite successful (extremely successful by academic standards) selling thirty thousand copies in its first year of circulation. Eventually, it sells over 100,000 copies.
  • An alumnus wants to donate $80,000 to his alma mater in California. A conservative professor teaches First Amendment law there. His area of expertise is campus speech codes and freedom of religious expression and association. The donor offers $40,000 in undirected funds for the university. The other $40,000 is given to the professor as summer research stipend money. It allows the professor to write a series of reports on university policies in place in California that directly violate the First Amendment. The reports are covered in the media. This eventually results in policy changes after the ADF and FIRE become involved.
  • An Alumnus wants to donate $40,000 to his alma mater in Ohio. The university general fund gets $20,000. The other half is used to fund two prominent pro-life speakers on campus. After the university accepts the money, the speakers become the first and second anti-abortion speakers on campus since Roe v. Wade was decided.

Only a fool would give money to a secular university without any strings attached. That is tantamount to funding an assault on your own time-tested values using your own hard-earned money. Of course, only a foolish university would reject money because it could not control the marketplace of ideas. That is just inviting further weakness in an effort to maintain an illusion of dominance.

Now is the time to get inside enemy gates and begin to effect gradual change. The weakened enemy simply cannot survive without us. They need to realize this. We need to realize it, too.

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