Editorial: endowment in name only

Thursday, March 10, 2011

If we put down a six-figure initial donation to a fund intended to raise at least $17 million and no one else followed suit, we might be a bit more upset than President Ruth Simmons seems right now.

In 2009, Simmons personally contributed $100,000 to initiate a student activities endowment that aims to eliminate the $178 student activities fee that every undergraduate student pays annually. Though the fee did not go up this year, it has steadily increased in recent years. According to a report by The Herald last week, the fund has inexplicably seen “no further contributions” since Simmons’s generous donation. This leaves the endowment miles away from its goal of $17 to $21 million.

We respect efforts by the Student Activities Committee and others to solicit contributions for the fund. The committee is working with the Office of Development to identify potential donors and has distributed a student activities information document to possible contributors.

That said, we find it downright perplexing that a fund championing a basic and crucial part of any University — student groups and extracurriculars — has found essentially zero support in two years. This is even more bizarre when considering Simmons’ considerable financial and vocal support for the endowment.

We understand that donations are often earmarked for specific purposes. Yet, given the growing financial burden on undergraduates through annual tuition increases, we urge donors to think of the pressing economic needs of current students. And, at least until the state of our national economy improves, we feel University officials have a responsibility to nudge these donors away from large-scale construction projects and towards the direction of more everyday student concerns. While donors ultimately have the final say on where their money goes, the entire community can do a better job pressing the short-term concerns of students given these perilous economic times.

The student activities endowment is a worthwhile fund, and we encourage University officials to more aggressively lobby alums to earmark their donations for it. Donating to the fund actually serves two purposes because it decreases tuition fees for every student and simultaneously contributes to the robust student group and extracurricular life on campus. Ultimately, students, faculty and alums consider student groups to be one of the hallmarks of a vibrant campus. We reject the notion that this student activities endowment should not be thriving at this point.

Student groups are having enough financial trouble as it is. The Herald reported Tuesday that because of its meager funding, Media Technology Services charges student groups to rent equipment for most non-academic performances and events. Consequently, student groups will likely apply for more funding in the future, or individual students will have to pay even more for extracurricular involvement. Either way, extracurricular activity will continue down its gradual path towards being less accessible and more expensive. Increasing the vibrancy of student groups and decreasing tuition is something that all donors can agree on, and we hope that Simmons and the University will launch a full-court press to get this endowment rolling.


Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board. Send comments to editorials(at)browndailyherald.com.