Sunday, May 13, 2018

Quickies: Money, Good Intentions, And Naughty Players

This case, in which a college appears to have targeted a student for punishment specifically because he’s an outspoken conservative, drew the following comment among others:
     Conservatives MUST stop donating to colleges and universities, except maybe to the science departments. [Emphasis added by FWP]

     This obviously came from a good-hearted person with good intentions, who wouldn’t want the science departments, which are generally resistant to SJW subversion, to be penalized for sins they probably didn’t commit. However, the problem is stiffer, and the naughty types are naughtier, than the commenter’s exception allows for.

     Some years ago, I twitted a colleague who’d just bought a New York State lottery ticket. Specifically I told him that buying a ticket doesn’t materially increase his chances of winning. He defended his action by repeating the Vampire State’s Lottery Shibboleth: “The money goes to education.” An accountant friend reminded us that money is fungible -- that it can be reapportioned and redirected almost without limit. If lottery players fatten the state treasury by $X, the state can then redirect $X it would have spent on education to other uses, without decreasing education funding by a single dollar. (Let’s omit for the moment that the state has no business being involved in education at all.)

     The same is true for “higher” education: colleges and universities. I’m unsure that it’s actually possible to entail a donation so that it goes to a particular department or activity, but let’s stipulate that it’s possible. When you donate $X to the University of Podunk’s physics department, you are actually putting $X in the university's hands to do with as it pleases. The university’s budgeters, aware that $X has been donated directly to physics, can then redirect $X that it would have spent on physics to other departments and activities.

     The university has been given $X more to fund whatever it likes. The physics department might not benefit by a single dollar. And the well-intentioned donor will never know.

     It's a fairly subtle point, and one that eludes many good-hearted people. We want to believe that we can do good without doing harm...but oftentimes it's not a straightforward matter at all.


John C. said...

It's not a subtle point. It's exactly what they do. My best friend's mother was on the board of a famous Philadelphia college and we talked about funding. Everything short of donating a building goes into a general fund and is dispersed therefrom. Let's say the law schools budget is $20 million. If an alum donates $10 million to be used "only by the School of Law", that $10 million is earmarked for he law school. Similarly the funding from the general budget is reduced by $10 million and Voila!, instant compliance. The "freed up" $10 million is then used for "pet projects" such as a Chair of Handicapped, Transvestite POC. The law alumni just funded a crippled, queer angry black woman to brainwash yoots and didn't even know it. Hell, he probably was awarded a beautiful plaque to hang in his law office attesting to his generosity and philanthropy toward future minds learning law. B.S.

sykes.1 said...

The key word is fungible. College administrators move money around at will without any regard to the conditions imposed by the donor. I was told once by my department chair that sometime in the past all of the department's endowed trust funds had been looted and had no money in them. The department funded the various trust fund purposes out of its regular annual budget.