Inside Higher Ed, Letting the Donor Decide:
Saint Louis University administrators and faculty where thrilled when a wealthy local couple — Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield — donated $50 million to the institution. The gift would allow university leaders to pursue bold and ambitious goals for the next decade and "accelerate SLU’s rise as a world-class research university."
Faculty and administrators alike agreed the infusion of cash could draw attention to the region and recognition of it as an emerging research hub. They also believed it would lure more scholars and students to the university.
The mutual excitement by the administration and the professors fostered a spirit of optimism and collaboration on campus, and a sense of shared aspirations. But the honeymoon ended almost as soon as it had begun after faculty members learned that the generous gift came with questionable and, to many, troubling strings attached: specific stipulations about faculty hiring and research funding that faculty leaders say violate university policies and academic integrity and freedom.
The donation, the largest in the Roman Catholic institution’s 200-year history, was announced in August, but university leaders had been in discussions about it with the Sinquefields for a year. The money will fund a new research institute that university officials say "will serve as the focal point for SLU’s strategic goal of growing the scale and eminence of its research and scholarship," and a new Sinquefield Center for Applied Economic Research on the Missouri campus. It also will also provide annual funding for the university’s chess team, which happens to be located in America’s chess capital.
The agreement stipulates that Rex Sinquefield, a Saint Louis alumnus and trustee, and Mark Higgins, dean of the business school, would select the director of the new economic research center. The director, a professor at the University of Missouri, was named and given the title of Sinquefield Professor of Economics without any prior notice to faculty, and without the input of a faculty-led hiring committee, as required under policies outlined in the faculty manual. The agreement also allows for research grants from the institute to be determined by a four-member committee that includes the Sinquefields.
There is a long tradition in academe of donors stipulating what they want to support — a given department, building or program, for instance — but hiring and awarding grants are viewed as academic decisions that should be handled by faculty members and administrators.
“The bottom line issue being confronted across the country is what level of control or influence should a donor have over the operation or various operations based on them giving a gift,” said Douglas Rush, president of the university’s Faculty Senate and an associate professor of higher education administration. “Where do you draw the line between donor participation, donor influence and donor control over university matters?” ...
Saint Louis administrators and faculty are still working through their differences over the terms of the donation from the Sinquefields. (He co-founded the investment firm Dimensional Fund Advisors, which has more than $525 billion in global assets.) After professors told university administrators that hiring the director of the research center violated faculty hiring policy, administrators acknowledged making a mistake and removed “professor” from the director’s title and replaced it with “executive director.” They also reclassified his position from “faculty to staff.” But they preserved the filled position, as the donor agreement dictated.
Faculty members were not impressed or appeased. “I asked the dean if there was a pool of candidates and he said no, the donor recommended someone who is qualified,” Bonnie Wilson, an associate professor of economics, said of the naming of the director.
Wilson and another economics professor, David Rapach, are leading the opposition to the agreement. “I don’t think the donors should be able to pick the person who will both conduct and direct the research at the center,” Wilson said. “The position hasn’t been posted as far as we know, so we don’t know how it conforms to EEO laws and the university’s own commitment to diversity and equality.” ...
“The distance between how to advance a president’s career is very far and very different from how faculty advance their careers, which is with research and scholarship,” he said. “Today what advances a president’s career almost more than anything else is fund-raising. They’re paying less and less attention to faculty in terms of these matters. They think if I can get a $50 million gift but it gets me grief from faculty, that’s OK, because the board isn’t going to fire me.”