Why I Will Not Donate to Boston College

At the end of each spring semester, Boston College alumni of all ages flock to campus for Reunion Weekend. Some tote diaper bags and push strollers full of toddlers, while others teeter slowly, hunched over walkers. Ironically, the most nostalgic might be the attendees of the Fifth Anniversary Party, who return to the Mods for one last school-sanctioned party. Last June, after the bulk of BC students had left campus, I was lucky enough to work as a student employee for Reunion Weekend and the weeks preceding.

It was a pretty sweet gig. During preparation, I worked with a group of students a few days a week at the Cadigan Alumni Center on Brighton Campus where we got free lunch (you know how I feel about free food), and an air-conditioned refuge from the summer heat. At Reunion Weekend, I handed out glow sticks at the Fifth Anniversary Party.

The job was great, but it gave me insight into the huge amount of money BC dedicates to pleasing alumni and celebrating its image. For one thing, most of my jobs seemed to be pointless busy work: alphabetizing and re-alphabetizing nametags, separating paper wristbands into stacks of 25, distributing these wristbands to the members of the Class of 2006 at their barbeque, only to find the wristbands trampled on the ground a few minutes later. There’s a certain carefree element in knowing that your job is completely unnecessary, and everything would function perfectly without you.

If working Reunion Weekend convinced me of anything, it’s that I will never donate to BC. I remember people getting excited a few years ago when the BC endowment surpassed $2 billion (it is now $2.2 billion). For comparison, the gross domestic product (GDP) of Liberia was worth around $2 billion in 2015.

I don’t know that much about finance or investing, but the internet has allowed me to gain a rough understanding of how university endowments work. An endowment, the money donated to the University, is invested, yielding an inflation-adjusted principal amount, along with additional income to use for more investments. Basically, a set percentage of the endowment is set aside for spending, and the rest, depending on how it is invested, keeps growing and growing and growing.

I got interested in the topic of university endowments after listening to “My Little Hundred Million,” an episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast “Revisionist History.” I highly recommend this series. In short, Gladwell questions why the largest donations to higher education go to institutions that already have massive endowments, instead of to schools that are struggling to provide basic resources to students. He specifically mentions Harvard and MIT, which have endowments of $37.6 billion and $13.2 billion, respectively.  

Based on endowments, BC isn’t quite on par with Harvard and MIT. But the University’s endowment is quickly growing, as is the size of the donations it receives. Peter Lynch, BC ’65 and vice chairman of Fidelity Management and Research Company, donated $20 million to BC in 2010, in addition to the $10 million he donated in 1999. Patrick Cadigan, BC ’57 and a realty investor, gave $15 million in 2012.

And we can’t forget Robert J. Morrissey, BC ’60, who in 2015 became the largest benefactor in BC’s history (BC has neither disclosed the amount donated nor the terms of the gift). Morrissey also chaired the Committee on Investment and Endowment since 1981, and is credited with helping grow the endowment from just $18 million in 1980 to over $2 billion today.

Beyond the fact that it is incredibly pompous to want to have a building or school named after oneself, I find it disturbing that gaining money is seen as the ultimate triumph for BC, a university founded on Jesuit values. Sure, BC has come a long way since 1972, when it was $30 million in debt. But since reaching financial stability, it seems there is no amount of money that will ever be enough.

Some have pointed out that the way money is made suggests an incompatibility with Jesuit values. Specifically, the BC administration has invested in fossil fuel energy, which, in January, Climate Justice at BC rallied to protest. BC administrators have claimed that divesting from fossil fuels would mean “getting political” with the endowment, which could create tensions with the University’s largest donors.

This demonstrates the problem in acquiring such large donations, the donors can restrict how schools spend and invest money. BC isn’t shy about promoting this, noting on the Support BC website that it aspires to “align University priorities with regional, national, and international donor interest.”

I understand that a university of this size needs money to operate and continue providing resources to students. According to BC, the endowment “provides support to University programs and activities including financial aid, faculty chairs and research funds, and student formation programs.” By using the money this way, BC will educate future leaders and innovators who will influence change in the world. And if BC is truly successful, it will mean that alumni donate their money to better causes.  

I will not donate to Boston College. Ever. While it is possible for the donor to choose where specifically their money will go (e.g. financial aid, athletics, campus beautification), I cannot understand why anyone would donate money to a university that already has $2.2 billion.

Of course I am grateful to be able to study at a world-class institution, but I think donations would make a much bigger impact at an organization that truly needs the money. If BC stands by any of the values it teaches to students, it should not ask soon-to-be graduates to donate a single penny to this institution. I would encourage any alumni or graduating seniors thinking of donating to BC to instead give to their favorite volunteer organization in Boston.

Featured Image by Zoe Fanning / Heights Editor

  • Jack Bernstein

    Because you claim not to “know that much about finance or investing,” allow me to explain why giving to universities like BC does a lot of social good. An endowment generates money to offset expenses. Most universities, including BC, operate at a loss. That means that your seemingly insane tuition bill is actually lower than the cost BC spends educating you. Even schools like Harvard that have much larger endowments could not afford to stay open without them (or without increasing tuition by tens of thousands of dollars). Look up any elite school and check out its financial statements. These universities, including BC, spend so much money in large part because they offer generous financial aid packages. That 2.2 billion-dollar endowment is the reason many of your classmates are able to attend BC. Without the endowment, that financial aid money goes away, the school loses the ability to attract excellent students who cannot afford to attend, and the quality of the university decreases. That BC has a large endowment is anything but a reason to give elsewhere. In fact, donating to an “elite” university that already has a lot of money may do more social good than donating to a school with less money because a donation to BC enables qualified students who would otherwise be going to less-elite school to attend. Giving to BC directly provides less fortunate students the opportunity to receive an excellent education. That seems like a pretty great cause for giving to me.

    • Adam Druit

      A few points I feel need to be made:

      1) I’m not entirely sure where you see BC operating at a loss. The PWC routine audit found a slight net operating profit in 2015 and 2016, after deducting financial aid from revenues.

      2) Even if BC is operating at a loss, that’s not evidence that “your seemingly insane tuition bill is actually lower than the cost BC spends educating you.” One of the fastest growing elements of private university expenditures is broader administration, not educational expenses. If your claim was “…lower than the cost BC spends giving you the full experience you received” it might be more accurate. But no, BC spends less in direct (and indirect) educational expenses than they take in in tuition.

      3) The point regarding who to give to is incredibly disingenuous. Several smaller colleges have had to shut down recently because of a lack financial resources altogether. Given that (as the article pointed out) much of additional contributions go towards growing the endowment beyond the point needed for need-blind admission, the marginal gain from 2.2 to 2.3 billion compared to a different school operating or closing down isn’t even remotely close. Choosing to give somewhere else doesn’t diminish the impressive endowment already stockpiled by BC, and doesn’t ‘take away other’s aid packages,’ it means making informed choices about marginal utilities.

      Furthermore:

      4) You never touch on the central premise of the article, that there are externalities that come with giving to BC’s endowment. If you actually are interested in the welfare of the less fortunate, then pressuring BC to invest in sustainable causes might be a good place to start.