By Drake MacFarlane
In the wake of the successful Day of Giving, the issue of donations and institutional advancement have thrust their way into our already busy lives here at Lewis & Clark. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the feeling of incredulity when asked to donate to an institution that we’re already paying tens of thousands of dollars to attend. Is it not preposterous to ask recent alums and current students already stacked with debt to fork over yet more cash to their alma mater? At least, that is the argument I’ve heard and believed.
However, despite my aforementioned qualms about donating to LC, I gave them a gift just the other day. My opinion on this issue has changed, much to my previous self’s chagrin. The bottom line is this: for private institutions, endowments are critical. LC’s endowment, as of 2014, was $224,361,159. A fifth of a billion dollars seems like plenty, right? Wrong. Our rival, Reed College, whose unofficial school motto is “Communism, Atheism and Free Love,” has a tidy $545.2 million in the bank. That’s chump change compared to other liberal arts schools, such as Pomona College’s cool $2.1 billion.
Like it or not, large endowments allow colleges and universities to offer better grants, bestow greater merit- and need-based financial aid, build new facilities, improve the compensation of their workers and hire more qualified and diverse faculty. Focusing on that last point, there has been a massive push recently to promote diversity in both staff and faculty. That’s easier said than done, of course. One major sticking point is wages. It suffices to say that diverse, qualified and available candidates are in high demand, yet are in comparably short supply. The basic rules of economics apply here: it’s in the best interest for talented, diverse candidates to seek out institutions which will offer them better compensation.
LC’s budget is tight to say the least. Our endowment has recovered a bit since former President Michael Mooney lost the orphanage on a horse race, but it still isn’t quite sufficient. According to comments made at the last faculty meeting, our professors make 10 percent less on average than our competitors. Why would they work at LC when all we can offer them is peanuts? The recently passed Faculty Diversity Proposal attempts to address this multifaceted issue, in part by leaning on the new Diversity Fund — funded by, guess what, donors.
So what can we do about it? We certainly don’t have the magnitude of cash needed to rectify this issue. Short of one of us becoming the next Bill Gates, there aren’t any easy solutions. One tangible thing we can do is donate. We can earmark our donations, small as they may be. In the end, it’s about volume: on such a micro-level, a thousand donations of $0.01 mean more than a single donation of $10. It’s about showing rating agencies that we, the students of LC, care about improving the institution. To ratings organizations, the more donations we give, the more prestigious our institution. This in turn can lead to bigger donors. Messed up as it is, this is a game where the only winning move is to play. Considering this, our path is clear: it’s time to put our money where our mouth is.