University News

Student activities endowment stagnant

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Clarification appended.

Two years after President Ruth Simmons donated $100,000 to jump-start a student activities endowment, no further contributions have been made towards its $17 million goal.

Though no gifts have come in, Simmons said she has spoken to potential donors about the project. “I think the attention that needs to be brought is that it is a fund to which people can donate,” she said.

In 2009, Stefan Smith ’09, then-vice chair of the Undergraduate Finance Board, told The Herald he did not expect the project would reach its ultimate goal “any time soon.”

Simmons’ donation met the endowment’s initial goal, but the committee and the Undergraduate Council of Students set an eventual target of $17 million to $21 million for the project, which would eliminate the mandatory $178 student activities fee for all undergraduates.

UCS plans to gain donor support without adversely affecting the funds of other University initiatives, said Ralanda Nelson ’12, student activities chair for UCS.

Steven King ’91, vice president for University Advancement, did not respond to a request for comment.

The student activities fee — which has been on the rise in recent years — is allocated by the UFB to fund student groups and activities.

Ryan Lester ’11 set the project in motion two years ago while serving as student activities chair. He said he researched similar endowments at Georgetown University and other institutions, as well as the Brown athletic endowment, to learn how endowment programs function. The Student Activities Committee set out to raise $100,000 by June 2009.

When the committee members presented the idea to Simmons, she received it favorably and personally donated the initial $100,000, Lester said.

“It is terrific if you could have an endowment that really provides these kinds of funds to reduce the possibility of fees continuing to rise,” Simmons said.

Following Simmons’ donation, the Student Activities Committee has been working to attract more donors for the endowment. The committee published a pamphlet to inform potential contributors about student activities and is working with the Office of Development to identify donors.  She said she hopes to speak to potential donors during Commencement or over the summer because endowing the fund is “definitely a priority for UCS and student groups.”

Nelson said the endowment is still in its initial stages, and the Student Activities Committee is trying to determine ways in which students and groups can directly benefit from the funds. For now, the committee is working to maintain the student activities fee — which has not changed from last year — at its current level.

But Simmons said she believes the endowment has the potential to be attractive to donors. “The broader the perspectives that we have, the better it is for our donor pool,” she said. “I like to say to donors, ‘whatever your interests are, we have something that will captivate those interests.'”

But in the interim, she said,  “Whatever amount is raised, it still helps the student activities fee.”

A previous version of this article described the goal for endowing a student activities fund as a “$20 million goal” and stated that the Undergraduate Council of Students initially set a fundraising target of $17 million to $21 million. The current fundraising target is $17 million.