I started doing yoga about a year ago, first sort of gingerly and then, sort of hard core. The “practice” as they call it, starts to be a? filter through which you see all of? life and that’s what happened to me on this morning’s commute.? I mused in the 93 tunnel about the upcoming challenges of a Monday, asking ” how am I to use my talent today, to make a difference in attracting dollars to UMass Boston?” The lessons of yoga were right there in the passenger seat. Alright, I didn’t exactly ask it that way, but you know what I mean.
After months of going to yoga class, I am starting to take on some of the more challenging poses — and holding them — poses like headstands and handstands, known in yoga speak as “Inversions.”
They are supposed to be really good for you because they totally mix up the normal blood flow, and really invert your reality, so that you start to see things with total new perspective. Physiologically you get all realigned and psychologically too. So at 48, I’m spending lots of my “down time” time on my head.
So I started to think about philanthropy and how so much of private dollars go to support private institutions and what would happen if those philanthropists just stood on their heads — en masse — and could see that the philanthropic ratios of giving are quite lopsided in terms of what is given to public and private universities in Massachusetts.
I’ve worked for the privates and I know the good they do with charitable gifts. At BC I saw a new chemistry building go up, and new professorships in moral theology; at Harvard I saw interdisciplinary brain science research funded, and watched their endowment skyrocket during my decade as a fundraiser there.
But it wasn’t until I arrived at UMass Boston almost five years ago, that I started to think that a disproportionate percentage of private giving is going to private institutions to make them swankier and swankier and that the most urgent? needs and widest opportunities for giving reside in the publics. Perhaps that is simplistic or an overly dramatic view. But let me tell you, when you are standing on your head, radical conclusions start to emerge.
Do we really need another cappuccino bar or fancy conference room or endowed chair at a private when 2/3rds of Massachusetts high school graduates who attend college do so at one of our public institutions which? are being decreasingly supported by the legislature? About 75% of UMass Boston’s graduates are staying right here in our state. They are working at our hospitals as nurses, at our non profits as leaders, in our high schools as principals, in our government as change agents.
How many endowed chairs do places like BC (and I have a masters from there) have in comparision to UMass Boston’s five?? How much scholarship money is available for Harvard students — versus what we can offer at UMass Boston? And a little scholarship goes a long, long way here. It is the difference between our students working a Papa Ginos at night to support their education to actually being able to invest themselves more fully in the rich educational opportunities at hand.
Can’t we spread the wealth so that Massachusetts’ public higher education system is on par with the excellence of its privates? Can’t we just play a little more equitably? Wealth breeds wealth, so we need to get our citizen donors to see that enough is enough. Let’s encourage folks to question their philanthropic habits with public education in mind.
Wouldn’t it be powerful if we convinced our donors in Massachusetts and elsewhere to become standing-on-their-heads philanthropists? Then they might start recognizing that a check written to a public university not only powerfully leverages public dollars, but also secures the economic and social future of our Commonwealth.
People can make charitable gifts anywhere:
here’s why your investment to public higher education “reaches higher.”
Nan Cormier is director of advancement communications at UMass Boston.