Wooing private millions for public colleges

Don Prell, class of '48, likes the UCLA Bruins as much as the next sports-loving alum. But as far as he's concerned, athletics isn't the only university program that deserves booster support -- academics does, too.

"It's about time the eggheads got their due," he confides. "It's about time [they] got some support. They deserve it."

"Everybody's always talking about athletics and boosters," says Mr. Prell, who has been active for years with various campus support groups and fund-raising activities. "I want to get involved with the faculty. Academics, after all, is what a university is all about."

Prell is one of 54 dues-paying individuals who are the core of the Dean's Council for the College of Letters and Sciences at the University of California at Los Angeles -- a recently formed group of "academic boosters" who will raise money and act as lobbyists-at-large for the college and its 34 departments, 19, 000 students, and 900 faculty members.

Although athletic departments and professional schools such as business and medicine have long enjoyed the financial support and clout of their alumni, the concept of a support group specifically for the arts and sciences -- including such departments as Spanish, history, and sociology, which are often taken for granted -- is a unique approach, say educators.

Even more significant, they say, the new council highlights a trend that has ballooned in recent years: Public universities, squeezed by a tightening of state and federal support, are taking a tip from private colleges and tapping the private sector for millions of dollars in contributions.

In 1979-80, 218 four-year public universities surveyed by the Council for Financial Aid to Education raised $856.2 million in private donations, compared with the $325.6 million raised by 231 institutions in 1970-71, according to Anne Decker, who heads the council's yearly survey.

"The importance of the role of voluntary support will increase dramatically as the proposed budget cuts at the federal and many state levels really start taking effect," she says, noting that the fund-raising trend already has begun. "In the last five years, the public institutions reporting to us have increased total voluntary support faster than the privates."

Private universities are old hands at rounding up private support, with Harvard University and its $1.5 billion endowment fund leading the pack as the nation's No. 1 fund-raiser.And some of the nation's leading public research universities, such as the University of Michigan, which raised $33.9 million in 1979-80, and the University of California system, which landed $75 million during the same period, have long known how to work the private sector.

But it has been only in the past five years or so, in an era of declining tax revenues, increased competition for public funds, and budget-cutting tax initiatives, that public universities have begun to court private suitors aggressively.

"Public schools have begun to develop fullscale staffs active in fund raising ," says Warren Heemann, a trustee of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. "Whereas they may have had one or two people chipping away at it in the past, they're now developing a complement of skilled staff members that more closely resembles what private institutions have.

"Public institutions are getting their act together more and more in terms of private fund raising," Mr. Heemann continues. "They've seen what private schools are doing and have identified those missed opportunities."

This trend, he says, has caused some alarm among private institutions, which are worried about fund-raising competition. But Heemann says, most of the money raised by public universities comes from alumni -- an as yet largely untapped resource which is off limits to private universities. "No University of Michigan graduate," he explains, "is ever going to contribute to Harvard."

Although UCLA accounted for $27.7 million of the total private funds raised by the University of California system in 1979-80, only 3.3 percent of the university's budget comes from private donations. Those funds are used on a campuswide basis, unlike any money raised by the new Dean's Council, which will be targeted solely for use within the College of Letters and Sciences.

According to Dean Eugen Weber, who began the council, private donations will be used to endow chairs to attract top professors; to create scholarships and fellowships to attract qualified students; and to sponsor faculty conferences or to provide seed money for faculty research. Council members, who will be given ready access to faculty members and academic activities, will also be counted on to help form a bridge between the campus and the community around it.

"In the last few years, public monies have been getting scarcer," says Dean Weber. "The [state] Legislature is reluctant to vote money for us for anything other than what is absolutely essential. That poses a very serious threat to the great research institutions.

"What with greater costs, and a greater reluctance to subsidize us," he continues, "we have to look wherever we can."

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