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The Campaign: First and Foremost

A $1 billion, five-year drive officially starts this weekend

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Why, after 173 years, is Boston University mounting its first comprehensive fundraising campaign? And why the daunting target of $1 billion, a figure that no school has ever aimed for in a first campaign?

Campaign chair Kenneth Feld (SMG’70) says he hears the answer every time he travels. “BU is now at a stage where it is breaking through,” says BU trustee Feld, whose family business—Feld Entertainment—owns Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and Disney on Ice, among other properties. “The level of fame that has come to BU internationally is extraordinary. This is the absolute right time.”

President Robert A. Brown offers a similar response: alumni are ready. “The Board of Trustees voted in April 2010 to authorize us to explore the feasibility of a billion-dollar campaign,” says Brown. “It has become clear that our alumni and other friends are prepared to support this ambitious effort, so we are moving forward. Nothing will be more important for the future of the University than our success.”

And while the Campaign for Boston University gets off to an official start this Saturday at 8 p.m. at Agganis Arena, where the Boston Pops Orchestra and other performers will entertain alumni, students, and guests, the groundwork was put in place shortly after Brown took office seven years ago, when he set administrators to work on a strategic plan that would describe their vision for the University. The document that emerged, “Choosing To Be Great,” took stock of the University’s strengths—renowned faculty, an increasingly gifted student body, healthy finances, and its international students and programs. It also identified priorities that would enhance and nurture those strengths, with the understanding that realizing those priorities would necessitate changes in the University’s funding strategy. At the same time, a disciplined budgeting process—long a BU strength—would be critical. “A vision without a budget,” Brown likes to say, “is a hallucination.”

Because BU does not have the hefty endowment that substantially supports the operating budgets of some peer institutions, the University can count on endowment income for only approximately 4 percent of its operating budget, and on fundraising income for another 5 percent. (These figures are half of what many other private universities of comparable quality, scale, and scope depend on.) And while “this distinctive business model has helped build a great university”—according to Scott Nichols, senior vice president for development and alumni relations—“it’s high time for philanthropy to play a larger role.”

For example, Boston University currently gets 53 percent of the money it needs for buildings through borrowing, with just 6 percent coming from gifts and grants. The president and trustees hope to substantially shift this balance, says Nichols, so that in the future, 50 percent can come from gifts, and just 20 percent from borrowing.

Nichols says that without a major fundraising effort, an even greater burden will have to be placed on tuition, which is something that neither Brown nor the trustees are willing to accept. This commitment to ride herd on tuition increases is among the many reasons why BU trustees and overseers have personally stepped up and pledged $130 million collectively to kick-start a campaign with a $1 billion goal.

Boston University School of Medicine BUSM MED student residence, 815 Albany street

The new School of Medicine student residence, on the Medical Campus at 815 Albany St., a nine-story complex with 104 two-bedroom apartments, was made possible by campaign gifts received over the past two years. Photo by Cydney Scott

Toward that ambitious end, the deans of all the schools and colleges have put together cadres of prominent alumni, known as Deans Advisory Boards, whose members are committed to the long-term success of those schools, and might be willing to back them not only with advice and counsel, but also with substantial philanthropic gifts. Nichols says that what had been a handful of such folks before the campaign has now burgeoned to more than 350, and the goal is to boost that number (including international alumni) to between 500 and 1,000.

Where will the money go? One third of the answer is already visible. While the campaign officially opened this fall, an unofficial “quiet” period began about two years ago, and it has yielded some impressive results. They include $25 million from trustee Rajen Kilachand (GSM’74), the largest gift in BU history, to endow the Arvind and Chandan Nandlal Kilachand Honors College, and $15 million from trustee Bahaa Hariri (SMG’90), for the Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering.

Campaign gifts have also made possible the new School of Medicine student residence, the expansion and renovation of the School of Law, and the New Balance athletic field. They fund important professorships, such as the Peter Paul professorships for junior faculty, given by trustee Peter Paul (GSM’71), and a $1 million gift for the Reidy Family Career Development Professorship at the College of Engineering from trustee Richard Reidy (SMG’82). For the past two years and through the 2017 campaign finale, trustee Richard Cohen (CGS’67, SMG’69) has pledged $300,000 a year to the campaign to send 15 undergraduate students to BU.

Some $75 million is slated for the Annual Fund, which supports a range of efforts, from scholarships to faculty enrichment to student life programs. The fund’s goal is as much about participation rates as it is about dollars raised. During the expected five-year life of the campaign, the Annual Fund seeks to double participation among BU alumni, from 25,000 to 50,000 donors a year.

One distinctive feature of the campaign is the Century Challenge, an innovative program aimed at raising support for undergraduate scholarships. The proposition works like this: if a donor contributes $100,000 or more to establish an endowed undergraduate scholarship fund, the University will use funds from its existing financial aid budget to match the payout from that fund every year for 100 years (up to a maximum of $100 million). In effect, this will double the impact of the donor’s named gift.

“Nobody’s ever done this,” Nichols says. “I’ve been working in development forever, and I’ve never heard any institution figure this out. Bob Brown did.”

The campaign’s overall objectives will allocate $150 million for support for students, to ensure that BU remains accessible to highly qualified candidates, and $200 million for support for faculty, to help recruit and retain outstanding scholars and teachers. The University has vowed to continue its program of gradually raising faculty salaries to competitive levels; a related goal is to increase the number of endowed professorships. The campaign’s goals also include $250 million to support research, $150 million to maintain and improve facilities, $150 million for special programs such as career services, libraries, and athletics, and $100 million for unrestricted and current-use gifts.

According to Nichols, the choices that must be made—which schools get how much money, which buildings get built, which professorships are funded, which programs get expanded, and so on—will go a long way toward defining the future of the University.

Which is why, he concludes, everyone needs to play their part. “Every contribution, from each and every alum, will be important.”

The Celebration of BU will take place Saturday, September 22, from 8 to 10 p.m., at Agganis Arena, 925 Commonwealth Ave. Reserve your tickets online, by calling 617-353-GOBU, or at the Agganis Arena ticket office.

8 Comments
Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

8 Comments on The Campaign: First and Foremost

  • fz339407 on 09.20.2012 at 6:55 am

    Econ is one of the best programs in BU. It has some very best professors and talent students, but look at their offices and research environment. It has not been changed for decades. Is this the real way to attract people? I saw changes in gyms and student villages, but not many signs toward a research university.

    • Victor on 09.20.2012 at 9:27 am

      Hopefully the campaign can help change that.

    • MW on 09.20.2012 at 10:02 am

      Yes, the econ department building is rather tattered. The first time I rode on that elevator I thought I wasn’t going to make it out. The offices, especially those in the basement, looked depressing.

  • Paul on 09.20.2012 at 11:52 am

    BU has one of the worst charity ratings for a 4 year private school. A full 10 cents of every dollar given is going to administrative costs.

    • Steve on 09.20.2012 at 5:52 pm

      Check out Charity Navigator. BU boasts a 4 star rating (out of a possible 4 stars) and you’ll find that those administrative costs compare almost identically with all top universities.

  • METAlum on 09.21.2012 at 1:45 pm

    As a couple of the above posters prove, BU has more than its share of whining complainers. Some may be unhappy because they ended up at BU after being rejected by Cornell, Johns Hopkins etc. Hopefully, with higher admission standards, these complainers will end up at a different safety school.

    • Morgan on 09.23.2012 at 3:47 pm

      Just pointing out that your comment doesn’t make sense. With higher admissions standards a Cornell reject would still get into BU. Especially considering that accept nearly 45% of applicants due to CGS.

      On the other hand BU is incredibly under rated. I had a delayed admission offer into Cornell and after spending a week in Ithica choose to continue at BU. For business education at least I still feel that it was the right decisions, minus the name recognition of cornell versus BU, after working with many cornell students at internships.

  • em on 09.25.2012 at 11:03 am

    http://www.bu.edu/campaign

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