The University of Oregon shows a way forward for public college systems struggling to compensate for severely depleted state budgets: fundraise like crazy. As local press reported in July, UO recently passed a $1 billion fundraising goal, with another $1 billion in its sights for the “next few years.” The ambitious campaign has allowed the school to expand its endowment, invest in athletic programs, hire new faculty, and provide more high-quality scholarships.
Newly-hired UO President Michael Schill comes to his position as both an accomplished legal academic and a tenacious fundraiser. “I find it really easy to ask people for money,” Schill told the Oregonian just after returning from a multi-stop begging tour of Asia; “If you believe in what you’re doing, it’s shocking how easy it is.”
Surely Schill is putting on a good face, but his situation highlights just how much of the modern college president’s time is spent devoted to fundraising. Schill reckons he spends “about 80 percent” of his mental energy on the $2 billion campaign—an estimate that will look familiar to university administrators from all different backgrounds. At small private schools, presidents may even have to spend more time than that rattling the collection plate.
And increasingly, it’s not just the president’s problem. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that UO is now “asking academic leaders to help cultivate big donors.” To be sure, the involvement of faculty in the university fundraising process is not a wholly new phenomenon, but it’s safe to say that the next generation of scholars will only make themselves more competitive for tenure-track academic jobs if they play the money game. Many academics will rightly see this as an onerous burden on their primary work. How college administrations choose to navigate these issues will be one of the more significant storylines in higher education over the next few years.
What is clear for the moment is that many schools will have to try to replicate Oregon’s successes if they hope to keep up with the ballooning endowments and record donations of top-tier institutions.
Photo credit: Matt Benton via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA