The Ties That Bind

Emory reviews its relationship to philanthropy, commerce

Emory examined its financial ties to the outside world–specifically the realms of philanthropy and commerce–during two innovative conferences in April.

Led by Dean Gary S. Wihl, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences hosted “Philanthropy and the Research University,” at which a hundred academics and fund-raising professionals trained a spotlight on the relationship between the two entities. The Sam Nunn Policy Forum focused on the “Commercialization of the Academy,” which brought to light the growing connections between higher education and the American marketplace.

The ties between the academy and its financial partners, leaders at both conferences concluded, must be forged and maintained with care, balance, and a watchful eye to the purest aspirations of education.

Not-for-profit funding sources have provided vital support to research universities since as far back as the industrial revolution, according to Olivier Zunz, Commonwealth Professor of History at the University of Virginia. When American institutions of classical education began to attract government and foundation money, colleges, in turn, broadened their mission to include more practical areas of learning, such as science. Today, this partnership has blossomed into a highly organized system of exchange, with professional fund-raisers employed by most universities to work directly with a range of donors.

Emory made an appropriate setting for a conversation about this rich relationship. One of the most striking examples of philanthropic giving to higher education is also an integral part of the University’s own history–the famous 1979 Woodruff gift of approximately $105 million from the Emily and Ernest Woodruff Fund. This endowment, proffered by longtime benefactors Robert W. Woodruff and his brother, George W. Woodruff, was the largest single gift ever given to an educational institution at the time, and allowed Emory to strive for a level of academic and institutional excellence that leaders had previously not dared to imagine.

“Philanthropy, specifically the emergence of the great trusts and foundations, has been essential to what Zunz calls the ‘matrix of knowledge’ in the United States for the last hundred years,” says Wihl. “Foundation support, endowment, and charitable giving are among the driving forces that created the distinctly American research university system.”

Howard Shapiro, former president of Princeton University and current chair of the board of the Arthur P. Sloan Foundation, said both higher education and philanthropy are “institutions of public trust” and share a weighty responsibility to those they serve.

“Our goals for discussion were threefold,” says Aimee L. Pozorski, conference assistant to Dean Wihl. “To question the strategic role of philanthropy in the development of research universities, to consider the role of academic leaders in shaping foundation goals, and to synthesize the University’s research mission with the broader civil and social missions of philanthropic organizations. The conference engaged these questions thoroughly and engaged them well.”

While private industry constitutes a different arena altogether, its increasing presence in the academy cannot be ignored, President William M. Chace said at the opening of the Nunn Forum. Sheldon Krimsky, professor of urban environmental policy at Tufts University, reported that private companies are providing money for university research and development at a rapidly increasing rate. What’s more, nearly one-third of some two thousand faculty members he surveyed were involved in commercial activity themselves.

In her keynote address, Karen Holbrook, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Georgia, said that faculty members’ commercial endeavors need to be recognized in ways that protect the integrity of higher education. “New institutional goals collide with traditional academic values,” Holbrook said. “This sends conflicting messages to faculty. We need to reorganize with an expanded set of requirements” that emphasize a balance between teaching, research, and entrepreneurial efforts.

Other key talks at the conference were given by Emory’s Michael M. E. Johns, executive vice president for health affairs; Emmy Award-winning NBC news chief health and science correspondent Robert Bazell; and former Senator Sam Nunn, for whom the forum is named. The sixth Nunn Forum was cosponsored by Emory, the University of Georgia, and Georgia Tech.

Although these two conferences were separate efforts, their closeness in focus and timing indicates an expanding awareness of Emory’s symbiotic interaction with entities beyond the campus.

“I am delighted that, with these two events, Emory is being identified as a center for provocative thinking and critical analysis of strategic issues facing research universities,” Wihl says. “I sincerely hope that the recognition we are getting from other universities and educational institutions will give a boost to our planning as a major university.”–P.P.P.