Wednesday, February 16, 2011

More blockbuster gifts - but not for hockey

Back in September I wrote about the $88 million donation Penn State received - the largest in its history - from alumnus Terry Pegula and his wife, with the total amount dedicated to hockey.  Well, truthfully it's not all for hockey; some of the money is going to build a 6,000 seat arena directly across the street from the Bryce Jordan Center, Penn State's 15-year old, 15,000 seat multipurpose arena.  Interestingly enough, nobody has clearly articulated why the BJC could not have been adapted for hockey use; I have been in there for the circus, and it appears to have more than enough space for an NCAA Division I-caliber hockey rink.  One explanation given for building the new arena is that it will provide two rinks.  But this ignores the fact that Penn State already has one rink in the Greenberg Ice Pavillion where its current club-level hockey team plays.

One sad aspect of this story is that the $88 million is not even enough to build the rink and support the creation of Division I men's and women's teams.  In the latest issue of Town and Gown magazine, Joe Battista - long-time head coach of the men's club team, and now in charge of development of the new rink and programs - was quoted as saying that he has to raise an additional $10 million, bringing the overall cost to almost $100 million.

An unnamed source (yes, The Itinerant Professor has unnamed sources) informed me that before announcement of the Pegula's gift, the Penn State fund raising apparatus worked hard with them to try to earmark some of the money, or an additional amount, for academic purposes.  The Penn State leadership was most assuredly aware of what kind of impact the announcement of the Pegula's gift would make, with the sum total dedicated to athletics.  These efforts were apparently for naught, and while I'm sure there is still ongoing cultivation of the Pegulas for more money, we have yet to hear anything.

This largesse for athletics is in sharp contrast to two other recently-announced gifts of similar scale to public, flagship universities.  Last month, UCLA announced a $100 million donation from an alumnus, with the money earmarked for
"...academic programs and capital improvements that bolster UCLA's efforts to harness intellectual capital, engage the public and serve as a resource in addressing leading civic and societal challenges, particularly in the Los Angeles region. It will be equally divided between the UCLA School of Public Affairs — the campus home for scholarship and teaching in public policy, urban planning and social welfare — and a planned residential conference center that promises to expand dialogue between scholars, government and business leaders, and the public at large."
"Addressing leading civic and societal challenges" - quite a contrast with the similar sum of money to be spent by Penn State, unless you consider the leading challenge in our region to be the lack of Division I hockey and a dedicated rink in which to play it.

Our Big 10 competitor Ohio State just announced its own $100 million donation from alumnus Lesley Wexner (founder of The Limited chain of women's clothing stores) and his foundation.  The press release states
"The gift will primarily benefit The Ohio State University Medical Center and The Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute. It will also benefit Ohio State’s Wexner Center for the Arts and select other university initiatives."
Again, quite a contrast with Penn State's big-ticket donation.

In all fairness, Penn State hasn't been without large donations for other than athletics.  Almost fifteen years ago, alumnus Bill Schreyer (who recently passed away) and his wife donated $30 million to endow an honors college at the University Park campus, later giving an additional $25 million to the college that now bears their name.  But there have been few blockbuster gifts of this type in contrast to our competitors, even those in the public sector.  And with very few exceptions - including Phil Knight (founder of Nike) at the University of Oregon, and oil magnate T. Boone Pickens at Oklahoma State - gifts in the range of $100 million rarely are purely for athletics.  Even Pickens followed up his large donation to OSU athletics with a $100 million donation for endowed chairs and professorships.

Last April, Penn State announced the kickoff of its $2 billion "For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students." The campaign priorities are listed as:
  • Scholarships: Ensuring Student Opportunity
  • Enhancing Honors Education
  • Student Life: Enriching the Student Experience
  • Building Faculty Strength and Capacity
  • Research: Fostering Discovery and Creativity
  • Colleges, Campuses, & Programs: Sustaining a Tradition of Quality
If Penn State is going to achieve its goals of supporting these areas, it is going to have to work hard to find large-capacity donors who are willing to support something other than athletics.

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