Leef’s latest Martin Center column offers warning to college donors

George Leef uses his latest Martin Center column to offer advice to college donors.

It is quite common: A successful college alum decides to donate a large sum of his accumulated wealth to his alma mater, but wants the money to be used in a specific way. School officials want the money. They don’t, however, care for the conditions attached to it. What to do?

The honorable course of action, of course, would be to say, “Thanks, but we’ll have to decline unless you are willing to change your conditions.” But often, they decide to accept the donation, knowing that they aren’t going to fully comply with the donor’s intentions. They figure that they will be able to get away with using the money as they desire so long as they don’t depart too radically from the donor’s intent. Such cases occur regularly, as philanthropy expert Martin Morse Wooster pointed out in his 2011 paper, “Games Universities Play.”

The most recent instance of a university accepting an alum’s donation and then using it in ways inconsistent with his wishes involves the University of Missouri.

Sherlock Hibbs graduated from Missouri in 1926 and pursued a successful business career. Late in his life, he approached the university’s Trulaske College of Business (TCB) with a proposition. He offered $5 million to support six faculty positions. Those positions, however, were not to be filled with just any scholar. Hibbs only wanted people who would conduct their teaching and research from the analytical perspective of the Austrian School of economics. …

… The problem was that officials at TCB thought that hiring a cadre of Austrians would make it too radical. That’s because the Austrians argue that nearly all governmental interventions in the economy are counter-productive: minimum wage laws, occupational licensing laws, labor regulations, subsidies of all kinds, and even government production of money.

Austrian scholars don’t necessarily or uniformly write and comment about such public policy questions, but many do and Missouri’s provost, Brady Deaton, feared that if the Hibbs bequest were strictly followed, it would create the perception that “the university was held hostage to a particular ideology.”

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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