Every dollar raised from alumni, corporations, foundations and friends is a dollar to help pay student tuition.
IT’S July, and you probably have heard from colleges or universitiesas the end of the academic fiscal year came to a close this week. Whether it was a phone call, a letter, an email, a text or a posting on your Facebook page, your alma mater’s message was the same: We would appreciate your donation. Any amount, large or small, will make a difference.
As a 12-year president at the University of Puget Sound, I can tell you, it’s all true. Every dollar raised from alumni, corporations, foundations and friends is a dollar we don’t have to charge students and families in tuition. Something we call “philanthropy” has been central to the success of American higher education since the beginning. It has made private universities like the Ivy League, as well as many in the Northwest, the envy of the world — especially in times when federal and state governments reduce their commitment to supporting college education for those who need it most. But for smaller and less wealthy colleges, such as Puget Sound — and increasingly for public universities — private philanthropy is essential to our survival and our ability to provide a life-changing educational experience that is affordable for more students.
My university just concluded what was for us an ambitious fundraising effort lasting nearly four years — more than that if you include the planning stages. We raised more than $125 million for financial aid, student support, new faculty in new fields of study, funding for teaching and research, and new science facilities. While we can all agree that a college education is expensive these days — and studies continue to show it remains a very good investment, even at today’s prices — what is equally evident is that it would be far more expensive were it not for generous donors who want to give back to their colleges and support a cause that makes a difference in people’s lives.
Philanthropy is an American tradition as old as George Washington. But the term comes from the Greek word for “love of humanity.” Now, it also refers to the actions based upon that sentiment and the agencies designed to encourage such actions. While the $100 million gifts (and more) from large organizations and wealthy individuals grab the headlines, I am most impressed by smaller foundations. They may have no personal connection to the causes they support but their regular gifts to colleges and hospitals and shelters and food banks and orchestras and museums enrich all of our lives every day in dramatic, but sometimes invisible, ways. They really do show the love. The Northwest is blessed with many great foundations, large and small.
One such organization in Washington is the Murdock Charitable Trust in Vancouver. It has supported our campaign by funding leading-edge science facilities, faculty and student research, laboratory equipment, and even a fitness-and-wellness center for our campus. And we are not alone. In the last 10 years, the Murdock Trust has made more than 600 grants in our region to higher education — public and private — including grants for capital projects, mostly in science and innovation. It also made more than 500 research grants going to high-school science teachers as well as to major researchers in the Northwest for key equipment and innovative research.
Murdock had modest — and quintessentially American — beginnings. Its founder, Jack Murdock, was born in Portland in 1917 and never had the advantages of a college education himself. He purchased and ran a radio-repair shop after graduating high school. Eventually, with his partner Howard Vollum (a student at both Reed College and the University of Portland), he founded what became a very successful electronics company called Tektronix, now a world leader in test, measurement and monitoring equipment.
Jack Murdock was both an American idealist and a realist. He was a lifelong innovator dedicated to science, the acquisition of knowledge and the improvement of human life. The Murdock Charitable Trust (celebrating 40 years of investing in private and public higher education) is the result of his entrepreneurial business success and his philanthropic love for humanity. It is one of more than 70 foundations of this kind that contributed to the University of Puget Sound’s campaign, helping to transform our curriculum and our campus and to strengthen support for teaching, research and students. All of our colleges and universities benefit from such partnerships with foundations, corporations and individuals who wisely see investing in higher education as an investment in our future.
As the Fourth of July holiday nears, it’s good to remember that George Washington was our nation’s first major philanthropist — followed by Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, all of whom contributed to and have colleges named after them. There is nothing more American than philanthropy or philanthropic organizations. Without them we wouldn’t have the greatest country or the greatest colleges and universities in the world.