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The reality of private funds

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NOVEMBER 13, 2012

When UC Berkeley recently wrapped up a private fundraising challenge two years ahead of schedule, the campus proved how vital alternate funding sources are for a strong academic environment. And though concerns about privatization are warranted to a certain extent, it is encouraging to see substantial sums of private money available for a public campus that desperately needs the support.

The Hewlett Challenge, launched in 2007 to endow chaired faculty positions, has allowed the campus to establish 100 new chairs and raise more than $220 million in endowment funding. The chairs are a valuable addition to the campus because holding on to top-tier faculty is critical for the campus to continue being one of the best in the world. Given the state and university’s fiscal atmosphere, the challenge represents one feasible way in which the campus can remain on par with its private competitors in faculty retention.

Similarly, the campus’s progress on its eight-year philanthropy project is a good sign. As of Aug. 31, the Campaign for Berkeley — which is set to conclude next year — had raised $2.6 billion of its $3 billion goal. That apparent success shows how adept UC Berkeley is becoming at garnering large amounts of private support — an important skill that will be even more critical if the state’s recent divestment from higher education becomes permanent.

While campus officials should be praised for meeting their fundraising targets so well, any increase in private money to a public university should be met with some amount of caution. Raising the level of private support to an institution that is supposed to serve the best interests of all Californians raises an ethical concern. The campus’s allegiance should not shift away from the public and toward its donors. In the university’s current situation, UC Berkeley has little choice other than to seek more private funds, but doing so nonetheless presents a fine line on which campus officials must tread very carefully.

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NOVEMBER 12, 2012