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Letter to the editor – Donor courtship common

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To the editor:

My alma mater, Duke University, was blasted in the press twice last week, once for the tragic transplant mishap, and once for the Wall Street Journal article that you cited in your 2/28/03 column, “Donor hunt can backfire.”

In essence, the Wall Street Journal excoriated Duke for lowering admissions standards to admit over 100 students with wealthy parents as part of the school’s aggressive $2 billion capital campaign.

You suggest this practice could hurt Duke’s reputation and eventually backfire by souring potential donors on the university.

Honestly, how can anyone be surprised that a major private university might consider a student’s financial resources and connections in the admissions process, when we have proof-positive sitting in the White House that Yale has been doing the same thing for years?

And Chelsea Clinton’s status as First Daughter clearly had a lot to do with her successful admission to Stanford. 

Every nonprofit committed to raising money from wealthy individuals at some point must face the ethical dilemma of providing disproportionate benefits to court those dollars.

Symphonies arrange private meetings with the conductor, and theaters give away box tickets. It’s not fair, but it’s the reality of fundraising.

What Duke is doing is practiced by universities throughout the U.S. Duke was just open enough, and perhaps naďve enough, to admit it.

I hope when the time comes that my daughter doesn’t lose the chance to go to Duke so that a wealthier child with fewer credentials can have her place.

But if she has to forfeit her spot to someone less qualified, I would much prefer it be to someone whose family can make a significant commitment to the university, rather than to a basketball player who will stay for two years and then never give the school another thought.

Instead of jumping on the Wall Street Journal bandwagon, the Philanthropy Journal should celebrate the tremendous efforts Duke has made to improve its relationship with the Durham community, and the dedication of its admissions program to identifying and admitting disadvantaged students from the Carolinas.

Finally, linking the school’s fundraising outlook to the “botched transplant operation” was a very cheap shot.

–Kathryn Peyton Brown, Great Falls, Va.

[Editor’s note: Kathryn Peyton Brown volunteered for many years for nonprofits in the San Francisco Bay Area.]

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