Let me begin by saying I like to buck the system and I like nothing more than a good protest (high school and college friends can confirm this). It’s our right under the beloved First Amendment to protest and to say whatever we want. Furthermore, I have no problem with the Occupy Wall Street movement. In fact, I think it’s kind of cool to see people involved…they should be.
But, I do think those of us who work in higher education, health care or other non-profit industries who are championing Occupy Wall Street might do well to exercise some caution in our de facto denigration of the 1% that seems to be the primary focus of the Occupy Wall Street crowd.
Those of us in the non-profit world rely on the 1% for far more than we might wish to acknowledge and we are likely going to be in even greater need of the 1% in the future.
I know all of the arguments (some of which I agree with) that the richest 1% have inherited their wealth, made their money unfairly on the backs of others, or the wealth gap is so great that it represents a great injustice. Again, I understand the arguments and am not ignorant to the matters of social justice intertwined within what is occurring in our country today. Let me repeat, I get it.
But, I also understand that it is the 1% that is responsible for much of the philanthropy in this country and it is the 1% that provides an overwhelming amount of financial support to non-profits.
It would do use well to remember this.
I am not worldly enough to write about health care or the arts, but I do know that higher education—public and private—relies heavily on philanthropic support from the 1% to fund all sorts of things like those listed below (not an inclusive list because it’s too long for a blog post):
- Endowed professorships
- Endowed scholarships
- Financial aid for needy students
- Faculty salaries
- Capital and building projects
- Lecture series
- Research and scholarship endeavors
- Departments and Schools
- Academic programs of study
- Athletic programs
- Innovation funds
Again, this is not even close to an exhaustive list of what is supported by philanthropy (and the 1%) in higher education. But, let’s at least acknowledge that we rely on support from others to fund things that matter to us and our students. It’s not just tuition dollars that appropriations make our places function.
I do know that I am not smart enough to judge who should pay what in taxes. Many others have opined on this matter and seem better equipped to speak with some amount of certainty about what all citizens should pay, so I’ll leave tax policy to others.
But, I am pretty sure that a tax code that makes certain the 1% “pay their fair share” (whatever that may be) will make it more challenging for non-profits to attract the resources we’ve become reliant on to pay people, to distinguish ourselves and to support student learning.
I might be wrong…the love for alma mater may be so great that the dollars will continue to roll in no mater what the tax rates are. There’s part of me that hopes so. And, there’s part of me that thinks that’s likely a dream. Only time will tell what happens to the 1%’s money when their tax bill goes up. But, I am worried their tax bill and their support for non-profits might have a correlation that we non-profiters won’t like very much.
I also know some will argue that “fair taxation” will provide the necessary resources to non-profits and will be more than adequate to make up for any potential loss of philanthropic support. If you think this is the case, let’s not forget that tax money is distributed through a political process that is seldom rational. More importantly, we can’t pay our current bills, so all available resources are needed to pay current commitments, not new ones. I think it is unlikely non-profits are going to be in a position to get more resources when so much public need exists.
Why does this matter to me?
Well because I want to explain my tepid support for the Wall Street Occupiers. I guess I feel guilty for allowing practicality to inch into my thinking.
This is not a defensive of the rich, but is an acknowledgment that those of us who work in the non-profit world might be living in the glass houses built by the 1%. All I ask is that we acknowledge that we rely on the 1% at some level and that it’s very unlikely we could deliver our mission (today or in the future) without their support.
It’s not the 1% or the 99% that worry me.
I am genuinely worried about the “doubly whamy” that declining federal and state support for higher education (think reduced state and appropriations, and Pell Grant reductions, etc.), combined with an environment that seems to be discouraging the 1%’s philanthropic support of higher education means to access and quality for America’s colleges. My concern is magnified as I think of smaller private colleges.
I know some of you think that support for higher education will always be attractive to donors and that a donor’s altruism will always prevail. I am not so sure. I fear we are entering a time when higher education is likely to become less accessible because of both the declining support from the public sector and refocusing of the top 1%’s resources. We will see, right?
Please let me know your thoughts about this.
W. Kent Barnds @bowtieadmission
P.S. I know some will view this as “administrative speak,” but I want to make sure that people understand that a college undertakes philanthropic endeavors in an effort to support student learning inside and outside the classroom. Resources from all sources are necessary to pay first-rate faculty and to support student learning. Administrators exist to support these endeavors and make certain the necessary resources are available. It’s not just about money; it’s about providing the best experience possible.