Donor Dollars

Generous donation or ego-trip? 

Beatriz Mascarenhas de Andrade Costa // Contributor

Peter Allard is a University of British Columbia (UBC) law graduate who has practiced as a lawyer in Vancouver for more than 20 years. In 2014, Allard made a $30 million donation towards UBC’s school of law and in recognition of the UBC alumni, the law school was renamed The Peter A. Allard School of Law one year later. However, this year Allard opened a lawsuit against the University.  

Allard claims that he made the donation under the conditions that he would get naming rights for the faculty of law, the building and all degree certificates granted by the faculty. The university claims that the donation agreement technically excludes PhD and LLM degrees, since those are conferred by the separate faculty of graduate and postdoctoral studies. Allard’s lawsuit aims to determine whether or not 30 million dollars can guarantee Allard’s name in the diplomas from other faculties.  

Perhaps more important questions should be addressed. How much are donors altruistically supporting education and how many donations are a contract in which both parties benefit? Should a payment be considered a donation if it comes based on personal demands? Are universities honoring donors or simply paying their part of a deal?  

A donation is a free contribution to an institution or company. When donors begin to apply personal interest and enforce a payback, it stops being a donation and becomes an investment. The act of having set conditions upon a donation creates a contract which both the company and the donor must follow. If a donor expects a reward for a financial contribution, it stops being a selfless donation and becomes a two-way deal. This way, universities are simply honoring a contract when they meet the conditions set by a contributor.  

The recent college admissions scandal in the USA exemplifies how selfish donations can be. Parents empty their pockets to get their children accepted into universities. How is that different from donating to a school on the condition that your child gets to attend it? Purchasing a building in your name to promote your company, a prize with your name on it to build an image to your career, bribes in exchange for an acceptance letter… how far are we willing to let such demands get? Donors hold power, and so they are able to demand whichever retributions they desire, as small or as significant as they wish and it is up to the universities to decide whether they accept it or not. 

When it comes to donating to universities, the ethics are unclear. If a donation comes with demands that would therefore classify mutual gain, it becomes a contract. The rules are yet to be written; it is up to both donors and universities to determine which requests are valid and fair and which are unethical and selfish. It is also the students and citizens duty to define where we draw the line. 

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