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Beyond the News


University Business, Jun 2009

Piecing together the why’s of anonymous giving.

IN ANY ECONOMIC CLIMATE, A donor secretly giving at least $90 million to 18 or more higher ed institutions would create a buzz. Headline after headline prove that it is happening now. This secret donor’s extreme anonymity is also unexpected.

While there’s no hard data on the percentage of donors wanting to remain anonymous, typically the secret is only a public one. “They’re anonymous but not truly anonymous,” says Rae Goldsmith, vice president for advancement resources at CASE. That is, a few high-level individuals usually know the source of the gift. As for the case of this donor, whose identity is hidden from all, she adds, “I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”

The past two months have brought frequent announcements of new gifts -- plus reports that the donor may have started giving earlier than originally thought. For instance, not long after Montclair State University (N.J.) shared news of its $5 million gift in early April, Binghamton University (N.Y.) announced an earlier $6 million gift officials had initially planned to keep secret. They reportedly decided to announce it once they realized it was part of a bigger plan.

The pattern generally looks like this: A banker calls and then two checks follow by mail, the larger for scholarships for women and minorities, the other to be used as needed. As of press time, each institution has been headed by a woman president, and many have been public institutions.

Talk of the gifts -- including speculation about who the donor or donors may be -- is “definitely a water cooler topic,” says Goldsmith. Mike Hutchison, associate vice president for development at Hendrix College (Ark.), which is male-led, has called peers in his CASE region to discuss it. But in his own office, he estimates discussing it for maybe 10 minutes?mainly just to affirm the donor, whose gifts show that “whether times are good or bad, we have those individuals out there who understand the impact that they can have with their gift.”

The donor recognizes the challenges students working their way through college face, notes Susan Cole, Montclair State’s president. “The central purpose of the gift is to ease the way for these students, enabling them to focus more intensively on their studies. It’s a simple but elegant concept.”

Less than simple: guessing the donor’s identity. Some suspect a peer donor group. These groups, which have become more structured in the past decade, involve philanthropists gathering “for mutual learning and in some cases a joint allocation,” explains Kat Rosqueta, executive director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania.

Another recent development in the philanthropy world is rankings of donors in publications such as Forbes and The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Thanks to those lists, and the easy availability of information today, “it’s becoming increasingly difficult to have a low profile,” Rosqueta says.

It’s unlikely school officials will be the ones probing for a name. They’re curious, but they have a “commitment to donor confidentiality,” says Goldsmith, adding that while “it’s a hard secret to keep,” the donor seems intent on remaining undiscovered.

It’s easier to speculate on why the secret is there in the first place. Some donors just want to opt out of the rankings game, Rosqueta notes. They “don’t want to see their names in very public lists of donors.” The gifts and their impact are then the emphasis, not the givers. They think, “It’s not about me. It’s about the good in the world that I’m trying to make,” she says. And considering the recession, anonymous givers might be “sensitive to the fact that there are people who can’t even meet basic needs. It’s a way not to call attention to their wealth.”

Sometimes donors want to keep private a deeply personal cause, such as an illness affecting a family member, Goldsmith adds. They may also not want other institutions “knocking at their doors seeking gifts.”

Whatever the motivation here, Rosqueta hopes “they’re not outed.” After all, anonymity was the intent. Hutchison says, “We as institutions need to be sure we keep the donor and their intent at the forefront of what we do.” -- Melissa Ezarik

ADVANCE WARNING AND GOOD PREPARATION ARE PLAYING A role in keeping an influenza outbreak from reaching pandemic proportions. So far, the H1N1 virus?“swine flu”?does not appear to be any more serious than seasonal influenza, but that doesn’t mean the danger point has passed. In fact, the virus continues to spread, with new cases being reported nearly every day. Mexico has confirmed more than 3,000 cases of the illness and 66 related deaths. In the United States, at this writing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 5,469 confirmed and probable cases of H1N1 and six deaths.

But colleges and universities are taking steps to minimize exposure and ensure student and faculty safety. At many institutions, administrators decided against the traditional handshake to graduating seniors at commencement exercises. And at Slippery Rock University (Pa.), 22 seniors who had recently returned from Mexico were kept from graduating with their class and given a separate commencement ceremony.

“A virus becomes a serious public health issue when it acquires the ability to cause serious illness, and in some cases death, and develops the ability to spread rapidly from one individual to another, infecting large numbers within days,” notes Mark Welker, executive director of public safety at Eastern Kentucky University.

EKU has no H1N1 cases to date, but a cross-campus group continually reviews elements of the university’s Pandemic Flu and Business Continuity Plan, in the event that the situation changes.

At Santa Clara University (Calif.), five students were put into isolation after the county health department determined they fit the profile of potential H1N1 cases, says Media Relations Director Deepa Arora.

The students were able to continue with their studies. “Our housing department had set aside rooms for these students to be by themselves,” says Arora. “They had food delivered to them, as well as wireless access.”

The students ultimately did not have swine flu, but the exercise proved the school was ready for that scenario. “Our emergency preparedness plans really work,” says Arora. “In an emergency or crisis, our Emergency Operations Committee?a group of representatives from every area on campus?is called together to review who does what. That kicked into gear right away. Everyone knew their responsibilities. There was no sense of ‘What do we do now?’” ?Tim Goral

Answering the Call: African-American Women in Higher Education Leadership

By Beverly L. Bower and Mimi Wolverton

Stylus Publishing,, 2009; 158 pp.; $22.50

ANSWERING THE CALL TELLS THE STORIES OF seven African-American women?five current or former college presidents and three who are devoted to leadership in higher education policy venues at state and/or national levels. Each lived through the pre-Civil Rights era and has firsthand experience in the movement’s resulting societal changes. The authors hope their subjects’ stories “will inspire the next generation of women to answer the leadership call.”

One memorable chapter shares how, in 2005, Marvalene Hughes ended her 11-year tenure as president of California State University, Stanislaus, to come to New Orleans and head up Dillard University. About two months later, Hurricane Katrina hit. She returned after the storm to more than $400 million in campus damages?and a “totally wounded community” to care for. Many people have written to her, saying they had wondered why she had chosen Louisiana over California. After Katrina, reports Hughes, “they said, ‘That is it.’ I have begun to believe it as well. And it is in that believing that I am able to recommit, to give my very best effort to moving the university forward.”

Among the others featured are Beverly Daniel Tatum of Spelman College (Ga.) and Jerry Sue Thornton of Cuyahoga Community College (Ohio). ?M.E.

COME AUGUST, THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA SYSTEM'S GROUP OF 10 CHANCELLORS will add two women to its ranks. They will join Marye Anne Fox, who is chancellor of UC, San Diego.

Susan Desmond-Hellmann, a physician and biotechnology industry executive, has been named to that post for the University of California, San Francisco, and Linda Katehi, a researcher and educator in electrical and computer engineering, will become chancellor of the University of California, Davis.

In a media release, UC President Mark Yudof recommended both women because of their expertise: Katehi, for her leadership at large public research universities, and Desmond-Hellmann, for her accomplishments as a clinician, researcher, and manager.

Certified in internal medicine and medical oncology, Desmond-Hellmann was president of product development for Genentech, a biotechnology company she joined in 1995. Yudof explains his appointee is coming at a crucial time for UCSF, with the pending construction of a new hospital at Mission Bay to serve women, children, and cancer patients.

As provost and vice chancellor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Katehi’s work as a professor and researcher has earned her several national and international awards, including 16 U.S. patents. She was selected by President George W. Bush to chair the President’s Committee on the National Media of Science. Her career in higher education includes academic positions at Purdue University (Ind.) and the University of Michigan.

Neither woman is a stranger to California universities. After earning a medical degree at the University of Nevada, Reno, Desmond-Hellmann moved to UCSF as an intern in 1982 and went on to serve as an assistant professor in hematology-oncology. Following her graduation with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the National Technical University in Athens in 1977, Katehi came to UCLA’s Electrical Engineering Department, where she earned her master’s degree in 1981 and a doctorate in 1984. She described her time there as having changed her life substantially. ?Michele Herrmann

WHAT DO ANALYZING CRIME scene DNA, racing in a cardboard boat regatta, and practicing healthcare in Tanzania have in common? First, these scientific learning moments are more fun than staring at textbooks, test tubes, and microscopes. Second, students are succeeding in these projects at women’s colleges such as Cedar Crest (Pa.), Sweet Briar (Va.), Smith (Mass.), and Douglass Residential College (N.J.). In the process, they are becoming effective communicators, interdisciplinary learners, and exemplary scientists.

“The fields of scientific inquiry are better served when women are fully represented,” states Cedar Crest President Carmen Twillie Ambar?and she should know. With its cutting edge programs in genetic engineering and forensic science, Cedar Crest is a leading example of the role sciences can play at women’s colleges.

At the new frontier of science, women’s colleges are now engaging next generation students in forensics, health sciences, nanotechnology, environmental studies, chemistry, and molecular biology. Significantly, women scientists are leading us into the future with cool new adaptive devices, medical breakthroughs, and investigative discoveries. These women’s colleges are preparing the leaders of tomorrow and encouraging young scientific minds to blossom in the new millennium.

For more on how institutions can inspire women to succeed in science, see the full version of this column at

?James Martin and James E. Samels, Future Shock columnists, are authors of Turnaround: Leading Stressed Colleges and Universities to Excellence (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009). Martin is a professor of English at Mount Ida College (Mass.), and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance.

FIRE SCIENCE STUDENTS AT THE University of New Haven (Conn.) won’t have to wait for actual fires in the area to progress in their studies. Instead they can examine the Fire Science and Arson Investigation Laboratory, housed in a barn on campus. Professor Bruce Varga says the three-room structure is the only one he knows of at a higher ed institution.

Those pursuing jobs in fire departments or insurance companies, and anyone studying criminal justice, could find themselves in the lab, learning about natural, accidental, undetermined, and incendiary fires. After watching a pre-recorded skit leading up to the fire, which can indicate which type it is, students investigate the scene to collect evidence and determine the cause. A change of scenario can change the outcome.

Why use resources to start fires in a lab? “A real fire scene can be hazardous,” Varga says?and it might not be available before semester’s end. The lab’s three rooms were furnished with donations from alumni and discarded items that will be replaced (along with the sheetrock walls in each of the burn rooms) when the lab gets put to the test again. To maintain usability, the structure was outfitted with a system that releases 100 pounds of carbon dioxide to extinguish the flames, which worked as expected when the first batch of fires was set this semester. Using a fire hose would have moved furniture and could have led to mold and mildew growth, Varga points out. Still, the local fire department has been on hand on fire days, just to be safe. ?Ann McClure

IF YOU TELL PEOPLE AT DARTMOUTH THAT e-mail is ineffective for fundraising, they’ll probably say you are doing it wrong. Considering they have tracking reports linking an April e-mail campaign to $200,000 in donations, they might have a point.

Incentives were involved, reveals Karlyn Morissette, web producer for external information services in the college’s development office. The campaign was for the annual fund. Every week a Dartmouth-themed prize drawing took place.

The first week’s prize was a wooden bowl made by a local artist, the second was a weekend stay and golf at the Hanover Hotel, the third was an iPod Touch (engraved and loaded with songs), and the final was a Kindle. The premiums were purchased with marketing funds for a total of less than $1,200, Morrisette estimates. The week with the Kindle, which came loaded with books by Dartmouth authors as well as a book featuring the college’s new president, was the most successful.

The campaign targeted donors who had not given during this fiscal year, or who had pledged but not paid. Once they donated, they were taken off the list and sent a thank-you note.

An e-mail campaign in March reminding donors to add their name to the class honor roll brought in $100,000. The campaigns were successful, Morissette theorizes, because they brought value to the donors. “I absolutely think we’ll do drawings like this again. It’s a no brainer.” ?A.M.

COULD AN E-READER CUT DOWN ON PAPER USE, ENRICH ACADEMIC LEARNING, OR EVEN become the preferred choice over printed textbooks? The question has been asked before about certain devices. This fall, students and faculty at five institutions will participate in trials to test the Kindle DX, the latest version of Amazon’s wireless reading device.

Their plans vary. Case Western Reserve University (Ohio) officials will evaluate how the device can impact learning experiences of about 40 undergraduate students in chemistry and computer science courses. Talks with Amazon had sparked a chemistry professor’s interest in the technology.

At Princeton, a joint project between the IT department and library will investigate whether using an e-reader can reduce paper use. Readings for three courses will be loaded on Kindles, with students and faculty receiving free devices. A gift from the High Meadows Foundation, which promotes environmental science, will support the program.

Plans at Arizona State University, Reed College (Ore.), and the University of Virginia’s business school are still being ironed out. For Reed spokesman Kevin Myers, “the promise of the Kindle DX is quite remarkable and could change things really substantially about how colleges do business.”

The Kindle DX certainly aims to be student-friendly. It has a built-in dictionary and note-taking capability, and it replaces weighty textbooks and other course materials. The device can also read PDF files and store up to 3,500 books, and it has a larger screen than the original Kindle. ?M.H.