Fund Raising and the College Presidency in an Era of Uncertainty: From 1975 to the Present

By Cook, W. Bruce | Journal of Higher Education, January-February 1997 | Go to article overview

Fund Raising and the College Presidency in an Era of Uncertainty: From 1975 to the Present


Cook, W. Bruce, Journal of Higher Education


Introduction

When Harvard President Neil Rudenstine took a leave of absence at the end of 1994 in order to recover from exhaustion and to undergo a battery of medical tests, several published reports cited fund-raising stress as one contributing factor [18, 42]. In assessing various analyses offered by the higher education community regarding this event, Robert Hahn, president of Johnson State College, stated, "Most observers have relied on familiar fallacies and myths." Hahn also noted, "The simplistic quality of most of the commentaries on Mr. Rudenstine's leave of absence suggests that much remains to be done to enlarge our understanding of the perils of [academic] leadership" [40, p. A64].

The Rudenstine case - and Hahn's remarks - underscore the need for a comprehensive history of the academic presidency (Joseph N. Crowley's 1994 book, No Equal in the World, sets the stage for this). Such a work would provide historians and other scholars as well as journalists and practitioners with a broader context from which to base their understanding and frame their views of current events and trends affecting the academic presidency. Such a work would also help to elevate the level and quality of discourse regarding academic chief executives and fund raising. Unfortunately, space does not allow for such an in-depth treatment of the subject here. Instead, this article will provide a context and overview for the period from 1975 to the present, described by Edward Lilly as the Era of Uncertainty [55].

In so doing, I will attempt to make a number of salient points, including the following:

1. The past 20 years have been correctly called an Era of Uncertainty in higher education because of certain defining characteristics.

2. During this period, both public and private universities have increased their commitment to private fund raising.

3. The increased emphasis given to private fund raising by public universities has changed a tacit, long-standing agreement between public and private institutions.

4. Fund-raising campaigns have become a way of life at many institutions.

5. Academic presidents must devote a significant portion of their time to fund-raising activities.

6. Many presidents have difficulty adjusting to their roles as fund raisers.

7. Fund raising and financial affairs in general are among the most high-profile duties/endeavors of a president and among the skills/attributes most prized by trustees as well as some faculty and alumni, and these issues are widely reported by the media.

8. Due to the increasing complexity of fund raising, presidents and other university personnel must have greater familiarity with tax laws, planned giving, estate planning, and other technical aspects of philanthropy.

9. Fund-raising considerations play a major part in the presidential selection process as well as the length of time incumbents remain in office.

10. There has been a slight trend in recent years toward hiring presidents with a background in development or business, although promotion from within academic ranks is still the norm.

11. Presidents should spend their time and effort in fund raising on the cultivation and solicitation of major gifts and in providing administrative leadership.

12. Presidents must emphasize a team approach to fund raising in which they play the dual roles of quarterback/athletic director.

The Era of Uncertainty

The decades following World War II have been called the Golden Age in American higher education. Federal funds flowed freely, enrollments soared, tremendous sums were expended for construction of new facilities and/or campuses, the community college movement had its flowering, and state university systems were created, to mention but a few notable characteristics [44, 77, 89].

By way of comparison, Whetten and Cameron contrasted this Golden Age with the Era of Uncertainty:

For at least two decades after World War II, higher education administrators had a relatively easy job. …

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