Taken at face value, it seems to be nothing but good news.
According to a February report by the Council for Aid to Education, charitable giving to U.S. colleges and universities went through the roof in 2013: $33.8 billion to higher education, an unprecedented number. 2014 has gotten off to a strong start as well.
I only have one concern based on my own understanding of why this laudable increase occurred.
The strong stock market is cited here as a reason for the increase, as it was in a separate study of an equally conspicuous spike in overall giving that I commented on in my February 14 post. I noted then that the market was a factor, but not the only factor.
With universities, it’s all the more logical to cite the bull market as a reason for increased giving, since university donations typically come in the form of stock or from equity pools directly tied to stocks.
Yet here too there’s a subliminal motivation that has nothing to do with P&L statements.
These university donations tend to focus on research institutions. The Melvin and Bren Simon Foundation, for one, is certainly motivated to support such institutions, as our work with the UCLA Division of Digestive Diseases, which I talked about in my February 24 post, confirms.
There’s no mystery as to why. Research institutions do measurable work. Give them money, and they produce tangible results. Even better: unambiguous results! You cure a disease, period. There are no messy human complications, as there is when you feed hungry people who might not also be nice people, or you shelter orphans who must still face utterly demoralizing burdens.
So here’s my concern. By all means, let’s achieve all the unequivocally positive benefits that research makes possible. But we must remain no less committed to giving in situations where problems cannot be remediated with the relatively simple expedient of a serum. Let’s give because it’s the right thing to do even when human beings we help don’t necessarily live happily ever after.