October 26, 2006

C.U. Kicks Off Capital Campaign

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After much anticipation, Cornell University will publicly announce today the launch of its $4 billion capital campaign at the Weill Medical College in New York City. Taking the name, “Far Above…The Campaign for Cornell,” this epic fundraising drive is unprecedented in the university’s history, far exceeding the last campaign’s goal of $1.5 billion.

The launching of the capital campaign comes at a time when Cornell’s endowment, once among the top few, has fallen behind many of its Ivy League peers. The University’s endowment in 1990, which was at $900 million, rose to $3.4 billion by 2000. Nonetheless, the endowment per full-time student in 2000 was a meager $185,000 compared to $1.3 and $1.1 million at Princeton and Harvard, respectively.

“We have work to do,” said President David Skorton in a press release.

“Cornellians view the challenges we face in our communities — here in New York City, throughout the state or around the world — as opportunities to take bold and dramatic action. This is about responding to people’s needs by pushing back the boundaries of education, discovery and service, and fully realizing a role we have already begun to play: Land grant institution of the world,” Skorton said.

The Breakdown in Brief

But specifically, what will this mean for Cornell? This capital campaign will not have specific fundraising goals broken down by college, like the previous campaign, but rather by three campaign priorities: providing students with access to a Cornell education, recruiting and retaining the next generation of faculty and creating state of the art facilities.

$640 million, or 16 percent of the total campaign goal, will go toward student support. This includes undergraduate financial aid, international scholarship funds, graduate fellowships, financial aid for students in Cornell’s professional schools, and general funds to “enhance the living-learning experience.”

$1.885 billion, or 47 percent, will go toward faculty and program support. The funds will be applied to endowing faculty positions and academic support positions, and enhancing research and programs.

$1.175 billion, or 29 percent, will be applied toward renovating and constructing state of the art facilities. Projects include the Life Sciences Technology Building, the Physical Sciences Building, a Biomedical Research Building for Weill Medical College, Gates Hall for Computing and Informational Sciences, Milstein Hall for the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, the West Campus Residential Initiative with two more house systems to follow, the plaza outside of Bailey Hall, expansion of Lynah Rink and renovation of Helen Newman Hall and the Johnson Museum.

$300 million, or 8 percent, will go towards unrestricted support, including the Cornell Annual Fund.

Higher Trends in Higher Education

According to a statement by Peter C. Meinig ’62, chairman of the Board of Trustees of Cornell, “This campaign represents one of the most ambitious initiatives taken in the history of academia.”

Indeed, the official announcement comes at a time when universities across the country have been announcing ambitious campaign goals. In the time span of a month, Columbia University announced a $4 billion goal, followed by Yale and the University Virginia each with $3 billion, and Stanford leading with $4.3 billion. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, more than 25 universities are conducting campaigns of $1 billion or more.

Are these numbers need driven or competition driven? Recently, New York Times business columnist Joe Nocera spoke out about negative consequences that these mega-billion dollar campaigns are having toward the majority of “other universities [that] are the schools that educate the vast bulk of American students … and so, ever so slowly, they are falling behind…[which] can’t possibly be good for the country.”

Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, questioned the correlation between money and excellence in higher education.

“I think that universities are in danger of a kind of fiscal arrogance, in which many of them are becoming as much banks and investment companies as institutions of education, research and culture,” he said to InsideHigherEd.

However, Charles Phlegar, vice president of Alumni Affairs and Development spoke on the contrary, “We are an institution that has a very significant public service mission and I don’t think there is an arrogant bone in anyone who works here. It just doesn’t apply to Cornell.”

And in response to Nocera’s statements, he replied, “I really don’t understand that. My colleagues at these other institutions certainly don’t sense any competition.”

Another recent trend among universities is the replacement of loans with grants. Announced as an objective in its capital campaign, Columbia University will be joining Harvard, Princeton and Stanford by eliminating loans for families making less than $50,000 annually.

However, Cornell, which does offer need-blind admission, is a step behind. Compared to Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and now Columbia, Cornell has a much larger student base. Accessibility of a Cornell education to students is emphasized, though no specifics are mentioned about the possibility of a grants instead of loans policy.

Fleeing, Fleeting Faculty

A serious concern looming ever so closer in Cornell’s horizon is the loss of a significant portion of the current faculty to retirement. Approximately 600 members of the faculty, about one-third, will leave over the next 10-year period.

What further complicates things is that this problem is not unique to Cornell. Replacing outstanding faculty at universities will be a national trend.

The $1.885 billion applied towards faculty support is three times the amount going towards students and encompasses the greatest portion of the capital campaign grand total, but is held in perspective in light of the looming problem.

Besides creating additional endowed professorships, the University will be using funds to support theme-based, cross-disciplinary interactions, including collaborations among faculty at Ithaca and researchers and clinicians at the medical school.

“It is a focus for this campaign that we put the funding together not only to retain quality faculty already here but to recruit new faculty while every other institution, both state and private institutions [are doing so] as well,” said Phlegar.

Bridging the Gorges, Spanning the Distance

Both campuses have resources and expertise in overlapping and complementing areas. According to Alumni Affairs and Development, collaboration will focus on four areas: biomedical engineering, nanomedicine and systems biology; multidisciplinary approaches to cancer biology; chemical biology and experimental therapeutics; and global health and infectious diseases.

Chemistry, engineering and nanotechnology have been the forte of the Ithaca campus, while clinical and biomedical research have been key on the New York City campus. According to a statement by the dean of the Graduate School of Medical Sciences on the campaign website, David Hajjar, graduate students in Ithaca will be able to train in biomedical research.

Additionally, among collaboration plans is the establishment of a graduate student linkage program to promote opportunities for graduate students to travel between Ithaca and New York City campuses.

Dr. Antonio M. Gotto, Jr., dean of Weill Cornell Medical College was optimistic about the prospects of collaborative research across campuses.

“By bridging the distance between Ithaca and Manhattan and bringing our best research minds together to develop solutions for the most daunting health issues of our time, I am confident we will unlock scientific and medical discoveries that can improve lives around the globe,” said Gotto in a press release statement.

Attention Alumni

Every gift, large or small, is significant. One common thought among many donors is how their contribution can make a difference in comparison with multimillion dollar gifts made by wealthier alums.

“We really are targeting all donors. We will have hundreds of thousands of gifts and most of those will be gifts under $100. We will spend a lot of time targeting the smaller gifts because they’re really important. We will look at all gifts of all levels,” said Phlegar.

The last capital campaign was made possible by contributions from more than 96,000 gifts from Cornell alumni and friends. Each gift, no matter the size, gets Cornell a step closer to its goal.

But for those who can give gifts of $100,000,000, the ramifications could be far and wide.

“If we can get some people interested in those types of gifts, what a huge impact that will have on Cornell. Can you imagine a hundred million dollars we can use for scholarship support. How many kids would get to come and graduate without a debt would be unbelievable,” said Phlegar.

“With the continued encouragement of our friends … and the generosity of Cornell’s remarkable alumni, we will continue to make Cornell an exemplary academic citizen in an interconnected world,” said Meinig in a statement.

Challenges and Costs
How much this capital campaign will cost remains to be seen. However, nationally, Cornell has over the years spent eight cents to raise a dollar. Cornell has historically been on the low side. The range for universities runs from seven to 15 cents while general non-profits would be higher, according to Phlegar.

One problem common among many non-profit fundraisers and capital campaigns is the high turnover rate for fundraisers. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the average stay is two years at any one college or university. Neighboring Ithaca College has reported that 10 members of the development staff have retired or resigned since the start of the campaign.

Has that been an issue for Cornell?

“It’s always a problem for institutions but Cornell has been fortunate in that a lot of people who want to be Ithaca, NY really want to be in Ithaca, NY. So we’ve been able to retain a lot of our development professionals. We have a very senior and stable development team,” said Phlegar.

Despite the recent changes at the top of the leadership, notably in the presidency and vice presidency of alumni affairs and development, there has been very little turnover for the most part.

There are other general fundraising challenges, such as encouraging people to invest in programs, engaging them in transformational ideas, “interesting ways of packaging proposals that address societal issues,” said Phlegar.

“We need more creativity in packaging those proposals, so that will be something of a challenge,” he said.

Hail, All Hail, Cornell

What will it take for the “Far Above” campaign to reach $4 billion? A lot of money. Skorton and capital campaign fundraisers will have to raise on average $1.6 million daily for the next five years.

In a press statement, New York State Governor George Pataki offered his encouragement and stood behind Cornell in its mission.

“I have every confidence that the Empire State will remain in the forefront of the worldwide academic and scientific revolution that is taking place … I have been a strong supporter of our land grant university, Cornell, for many years, and for good reasons.”

“With … over $1 billion in gifts and pledges already committed, we are well on our way to realizing this bright vision,” Skorton said.