We came across an editorial yesterday authored by Amy Wax for The American Conservative that left us scratching our heads. The piece — or diatribe if you will — is entitled “Why Donors Must Abandon Their Ivy League Alma Maters Now” and, true to its title, it focuses on why the folks who give money annually to America’s highly selective universities would be doing more for their country if they earmarked their dollars for other causes, like trade schools. It’s certainly not an argument we haven’t heard before. We’ve read many an editorial over the years in which folks question why America’s rich continue to help the rich get richer by annually contributing to the ballooning endowments of our nation’s wealthiest universities. So what exactly is Wax’s argument against donating to elite universities?
UPenn Law Professor Encourages People to Stop Donating to Elite Schools
As she writes, “The flow of private money into higher education from alumni and other sources shows little sign of abating. This article questions the wisdom of these gifts. Alumni, private individuals, and foundations ought to rethink their generosity to academic higher education. This is especially true for the already well-endowed universities, including the Ivies, that receive the lion’s share of funds. Why should private donors stop giving to higher education? University benefactors should be made more aware of the one-sided ideological profile of faculty and administrators and the relentless growth of the university bureaucracy and infrastructure that is driving up costs. They need to realize that the present volume of private money helps make universities impervious to pressure to reform some of their troubling practices, including their political tilt, their intolerance of dissent, and their burgeoning administrative apparatus.”
The Esteemed Hank Rowan Believed His Money Would Go Further at a Non-Prestigious School
Wax’s stance on donations to these elite schools, as we’ve said, is not original. Malcolm Gladwell — in a much more engaging way on his podcast, Revisionist History — shared with the world the story of Hank Rowan and his “little” $100 million gift. You see, Rowan felt that donating his $100 million to a fancy school like Stanford would be a drop in the bucket, that it wouldn’t make a real difference. And so in an unprecedented move, in 1992, Rowan donated his fortune to the small, public Glassboro State University in New Jersey. The school, now appropriately named Rowan University, has a history of educating low- and middle-income immigrants and first-generation Americans in trades that Hank Rowan felt would be important to America’s future. Rowan saw value in donating to a school that wasn’t elite, to being a big fish in a small pond, to investing in America’s future by investing in young people who — for whatever reason — didn’t end up at one of our nation’s most elite universities.
The Irony of the UPenn Law Professor’s Position on Donations
While it may surprise our readers, we don’t disagree with many of the points raised in Amy Wax’s editorial. If you want to exert change at America’s elite colleges because you think they’re too left of center, sure, stop donating. Give elsewhere. But what leaves us scratching our heads is just that, well, Amy Wax is the Robert Mundheim Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. You see, the controversial Amy Wax whose prior comments on race we find utterly reprehensible doesn’t only teach at one of our nation’s most highly selective universities that she’s encouraging donors to stop funding. Her position at this law school is endowed in honor of Robert Mundheim. Mundheim is not only a former Dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School…he is also, based on our research, a loyal donor to the Democratic party. Yes, Wax’s very livelihood is proof in the pudding that money alone does not control the political leanings of an institution and it severely undercuts her central point that donors should stop giving to elite schools so they could exert greater control over their political climates.
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