The president of the University of Maryland announced two gifts totaling $60 million yesterday, the largest onetime influx of private money to a public university in the state's history.
The money, which will fund scholarships for engineering students and business school and performing arts programs, boosts a fundraising campaign at the College Park campus. But it means even more than that to the university, which, like public schools across the country, has been working harder to drum up private funding.
Robert H. Smith, left, laughs with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. during the announcement of Smith's and A. James Clark's gifts. U-Md. is working to lure more private donations.
(Matthew S. Gunby -- AP)
"This is the most historic moment since the university was founded," U-Md. President C.D. Mote Jr. said, because it represents a shift to the more ambitious agenda that private money can bankroll and less reliance on state funding, which often fluctuates with the economy.
U-Md.'s public funding had been steadily increasing when the economy was hot, but in recent years the state has cut the school's budget and tuition rose dramatically. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) recently recommended an increase of $43 million for the university system.
Mote spoke at the State House in Annapolis yesterday with Ehrlich and legislative leaders at his side. Ehrlich said he had told college officials that they needed to raise more private funds. "It's not as good as it should be, particularly given the prominence of this university today," the governor said.
The U-Md. gifts come from longtime supporters of the university. A. James Clark, who attended the school on a state scholarship and graduated in 1950, leads Clark Enterprises Inc. of Bethesda. His $30 million donation will go to scholarships at the A. James Clark School of Engineering.
Robert H. Smith, another member of the Class of 1950, heads two large real estate companies founded in Washington and named for his father, Charles E. Smith. His gift will support programs at the Robert H. Smith School of Business and the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.
Although the two gifts are huge for U-Md., they are dwarfed by onetime donations to Johns Hopkins University and other private schools. Johns Hopkins, for example, has received three donations of $100 million or more in recent years.
Public university leaders are hoping to court more major donors, ramping up fundraising to try to be "as aggressive and sophisticated and successful as the elite private universities," said Robert D. Sweeney, senior vice president for development and public affairs at the University of Virginia.
Before the 1970s, public institutions did little private fundraising, said David Bass, director of the National Center for Institutionally Related Foundations. But as state budgets fluctuated, the emphasis on private money has steadily grown at public schools across the country, he said.
"Colleges and universities like the University of Maryland are increasingly having to go to the well with private donors to get buildings built, to fund scholarships, to hire professors," said Travis Reindl, director of state policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.
Reindl said private money lets schools be more flexible and act more quickly than they could do with state funding. It can make them more competitive and better able to weather budget cuts. But it has downsides, too, such as the amount of time presidents and chancellors spend looking for cash.
And often, gifts, especially big ones, come with strings attached. That can mean millions for an already well-funded program when other needs are unmet or questions about whether research could be influenced, Reindl said. "As public money becomes more and more of a minority stakeholder, then you have to ask who's in charge here," he said.
College officials say that without private money they would have to increase tuition, making it more difficult for some students to afford state schools meant to be available to all.
Private philanthropy is an important element of a strategy to counter shrinking state support in Virginia, Sweeney said. U-Va.'s $3 billion campaign is one of the most ambitious in the country.
Last year, U-Md. raised $86 million, a record for the school, and over the past decade, the level of annual private support has more than doubled.
Before the two $30 million gifts, the largest ever given to U-Md. were two $15 million donations -- also given by Clark and Smith.