If this is the best argument that can be made for holding one’s fire on the subject of huge unspent university endowments–that it might make people think all colleges have too much money–then the institutions sitting on those endowments might as well start writing big checks to the IRS right now, because they’ve already lost the debate. It’s never a good idea to claim that people might get the wrong idea from the truth–even when it’s the case. Yes, it’s unfortunate that scandals at the Red Cross and United Way contribute to a mistaken impression that all charities are corrupt; but surely no one would argue that therefore those scandals shouldn’t be reported.
And in the current context, is it really too much to expect that before shutting their wallets the relevant consumers–by definition, people with college educations!–will ask if in fact the place still needs money? Most loyal (that is, donating) alumni actually pony up first and ask questions later, like the Nonprofiteer’s cash-strapped friend who nonetheless just pledged hundreds of dollars to an alma mater with literally a billion in the bank. If current coverage of over-endowed institutions brings that pattern to an end, so much the better: more charitable money left for causes that actually need it.
And if the concern is Worcester State College (as our colleague at the 501c Files suggests), once again the ear to bend is that of legislators too cowardly to do what’s necessary to fund the public educational system they inherited from their more forward-thinking predecessors.
(The Nonprofiteer doesn’t, by the way, think much of the Harvard alum’s suggestion that the university use its endowment to fund education in Africa; that’s not its mission. It’s fine for alums to divert their “class gift” to that purpose–every new fundraising drive gets to identify its own purpose and goal–but at the same time Harvard needs to figure out how to spend its endowment on the work for which it was raised, namely, providing Harvard students with an education.)