What College Presidents Do: Most modern colleges are such diffuse, multiform institutions that it's very hard for anybody to get an accurate picture of the strengths and weaknesses of any institution overall. The German department could be great while the French department stinks or vice-versa. Heck, two German majors could disagree on the German deparment. So, assessing a college tends to be a four-blind-men-examining-an-elephant situation.
Perhaps the single most important and objective factor in determining the quality of the college is the size of the endowment, since that can pay for fancy professors, buildings, students, and athletes. And, yet, why should somebody donate to a college? It's not a question with a completely (or even partially) obvious answer.
Milton Friedman said universities had three purposes: teaching, research, and monument-building. As far as I can tell, the colleges and snootier high schools of
Thus, the most important job of a college president can be to act like they are the president of an incredibly wonderful college and that anybody in their right mind would pay for the honor of giving money to the school.
For example, here's one of the more informative articles I've read about the monetary side of running a college, "Academic Entrepreneurship at Dickinson College."
Then, in 1999 the college appointed alumnus William Durden president, and he immediately set about telling everybody that
Between the 2002 and 2005 fiscal years, donations to the college's endowment soared from $3.8-million to $30.8-million. The increase resulted from focused and aggressive fund raising.
Before 2000 the development office spent little time cultivating potential donors. Mr. Durden, who as an alumnus was never approached for a gift, says that fund raising used to focus disproportionately on graduates living inside the Washington Beltway. "That's not where the money is," he says. "You have to have a presence in
"For years we were somehow hesitant to ask for money," Ms. Parker says. In 2000 the development staff visited only about 30 potential donors. Last year that number soared to almost 1,000. The office has since increased staffing from 24 to 37 employees, and its budget has nearly doubled, to $2.4-million. Since 2000 the college has obtained 21 gift commitments of over $1-million. Between 1970 and 2000, it had only six such commitments.
This makes you wonder what in the world Harvard thought they were doing in appointing Larry Summers president, whom nobody ever called a super salesman. Maybe they figured that Harvard is so, so rich ($29 billion endowment) that they could pick a president just because he was really smart.