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Monday, December 20, 2010

Giving it away, part II

This week a prominent alumnus of North Carolina State University announced that he and his wife are giving $40 million to the university.

Philanthropy is good. I don't know the persons involved, and I wish them well. I'm sure they mean well. But I can't say that I concur in their decision.

First, there are social service agencies in the Triangle to whom even a fraction of $40 million would mean new bricks and mortar that can be used for salvation and transformation of countless lives.

Second, almost half of the $40 million is to enhance NCSU's College of Management, which currently is inferior to the B-schools at UNC-CH and Duke. Truth is, North Carolina doesn't need another high-profile MBA program. The Triangle and indeed the nation are flooded with MBA programs, and most of the newer programs are mediocre. Consequently the nation is awash with MBA grads, many of whom cannot find employment commensurate with their degrees and struggle to pay back the loans they took to finance the degrees (there's irony!). Somehow the university apparatchiks of our country have succeeded in positioning the MBA -- for that matter, graduate/professional degrees in general -- as a necessity for the masses. It's untrue, but the apparatchiks have promoted the MBA so smartly that their notion of indispensability is difficult to dispel.

Third, about $2.5 million of the gift will be used to erect a clubhouse for NCSU's recently constructed golf course (which also bears the name of this alumnus). I recognize that NCSU has student-athletes who play golf and that NCSU uses the course to teach and perform research in turf management. Nevertheless, the golf course exists primarily as a locus for schmoozing among politicians, university insiders, and their friends.

The amount of alumni money that pours into NCSU and most other large universities -- and often specifically into their athletic programs -- is staggering. Ours is a free country, and donors can send their money where they wish. But if I came into $40 million tomorrow, universities would not be at the top of my list of potential recipients... even though I'm a former faculty member of a major university.

When the press finds a church or 501(c)(3) charity whose CEO makes over $300,000 a year, there is outrage. No one seems to care that many university administrators would see $300,000 as chump change. Perhaps donations to universities should no longer be tax-deductible.