[Paleopsych] CHE: Class Notes

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Thu Apr 7 16:53:05 UTC 2005

Class Notes
The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.4.8

    More than ever, faculty members are being recruited to raise money for
    their departments


    When graduates of my department publish a book or scale Mount Everest,
    they have their choice of three places to brag. The university's
    alumni magazine, a glossy quarterly, features class notes in every
    issue. The College of Arts and Sciences produces its own annual
    broadsheet with space for class notes. And for the past two years, I
    have been editing a newsletter for the anthropology department that
    includes notes from alumni.

    The abundant interest in the activities of our former students goes
    beyond mere curiosity. It reflects the intensified campaign by public
    universities to cultivate a pool of potential donors. More than ever,
    faculty members are being recruited for the tasks of development, an
    endless process of wheedling that has come to consume every sector of
    the university.

    At the University of Oklahoma, my employer, the proportion of the
    operating budget contributed by the state has declined from 35 percent
    10 years ago to about 20 percent this year. During that same time,
    student tuition has increased dramatically, but not enough to cover
    the loss in public revenue.

    Increasingly, the way to compensate for falling state appropriations
    has been through private giving. It is not new for the university
    president to be viewed as fund raiser in chief; what has changed is
    the creep of development duties across the campus.

    A few years ago, the College of Arts and Sciences, my department's
    administrative home, hired its own development officer to supplement
    the universitywide efforts. One of his first suggestions to department
    heads was to improve communication with alumni so that they would
    remain connected to the university and become familiar with the ways
    in which their donations would be put to use. The easiest way to do
    that is through a newsletter.

    Interested in establishing contact with our alumni, my department
    chairwoman asked me to compile the anthropology newsletter. As service
    activities go, that job is not too onerous and even affords an outlet
    for my frustrated journalistic desires. Moreover, I receive the
    satisfaction of hearing back from former students about how their
    anthropological training has been useful in the professional world.

    Then the first check arrived. Every month the foundation that
    administers departmental donations sends an account statement to our
    chairwoman. Usually that statement reflects no activity. But this
    year, the statement recorded several deposits from alumni who were
    motivated to donate after reading the newsletter.

    Suddenly, the newsletter was not a once-a-semester commitment, but the
    cornerstone of a larger strategy to raise money for student
    scholarships in the department. My energized chairwoman and I made an
    appointment with the college's development officer to discuss what
    steps we could take to build on our early success.

    We started with the idea of a reception for an emeritus professor who
    had recently published a book. Under the guidance of the development
    officer, the plan became a $50-a-head, sit-down dinner with tours of
    the natural-history museum collections.

    Next, we discussed the establishment of a board of visitors. Those
    prominent alumni would meet annually to plan outreach activities and
    encourage classmates to give to the department. In exchange for
    endowing a scholarship, a donor would get naming rights and a chance
    to meet with the recipient. The development officer talked excitedly
    about establishing ties with local businesses and Indian tribes.

    As we left the meeting, I looked around the newly renovated building
    that houses the office of the dean and his staff. Engraved plates
    recognizing distinguished alumni decorated the walls. One wing, for
    academic advising, had been named for an alumnus who became a state
    senator. Even the elevator carried a plaque with the name of a donor
    to the college.

    It's encouraging that so many alumni and friends of the university
    have given generously to support our academic mission. Yet in that
    moment, it seemed to me that the relentless massaging of donor
    relations could easily eclipse my scholarly activities.

    There was no longer comfort in knowing that I could rely on a
    professional fund-raising staff in tailored suits to hold cocktail
    parties and plan reunions to coax dollars from alumni. I would have to
    dust off my blazer and join my fellow faculty members in organizing
    and attending such events.

    Tightening budget constraints have created a vicious cycle in which
    development activities lead to more of the same; the newsletter builds
    on the Web site, the annual banquet follows from the department
    holiday party. At first, we envisioned a pot of money to pay for
    graduate-student travel to conferences and to award outstanding
    undergraduates at commencement. Next we're aiming for an endowed
    professorship. This is not to disparage the worthy goals of
    cultivating philanthropy. One lesson I've learned is that donors must
    be trained to give. That is why many colleges organize a senior-class
    gift (and sometimes junior, sophomore, and freshman gifts). Once
    inculcated, the habit of donating not only enriches the university,
    but also strengthens connections between alumni and the institution.

    Yet, as development strategies become more sophisticated, alumni
    become potential customers to be solicited ever more aggressively.
    Coaches have long been a part of that campaign, but now regular
    faculty members have been called to participate in the raising of
    private dollars that has become so essential to the health of public

    State-supported universities like mine are in a bind. While a smaller
    and smaller proportion of our expenditures are financed by public
    money, we are simultaneously prohibited from raising tuition beyond
    certain thresholds set by legislators. To support disciplines where
    large government grants for research are uncommon, we must rely
    increasingly on the generosity of alumni donors.

    So twice a year I assemble notes about the events of the semester and
    the accomplishments of our alumni into a departmental newsletter.
    Before I send it out to our list of graduates, I make sure to put all
    the names in bold.

    Peter S. Cahn is an assistant professor of anthropology at the
    University of Oklahoma. For an archive of his previous columns, see

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