An academic absurdity
New York University will launch a new program in September to prepare graduate students for a "Master of Science in Fundraising." Perhaps I'm just a grouchy old man, but the idea of training students how to lure cash from the really rich folk and to reward the student with a graduate degree strikes me as being an academic absurdity.
According to an NYU announcement, the new program "emphasizes the critical skills needed for effective fundraising and grantmaking, and offers insight into the art, science, and spirit that create excellence in the profession."
To gain an MS degree in fund-raising, the graduate student will be required to take such core courses as "Theory and Practice in Fundraising," "Psychology of Philanthropy," "Technology for Fundraising," and "Ethics in Philanthropic Organizations."
The MS candidates will also be trained in estate and gift tax planning, "wealth management," "ethics and and laws of nonprofits," and--this is my favorite topic--"The Art and the Science" of major gift-giving.
"There's no better way to combine your personal values and your professional life than with a career in philanthropy and fundraising," declares an NYU fact sheet about the new program. "Job opportunities at handsome salaries abound."
As an alumnus of NYU with fond memories of the school's focus on genuine scholarship, I shudder at its grubby institutional descent. Fund-raising should remain an administrative function of the university, not an academic discipline for students.
I believe the impetus for the new program was the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002. The new law is designed to improve corporate governance and accountability. Apparently, there is concern that the new financial scrutiny required by the law will now be applied to nonprofit philanthropic organizations as well as to corporations.
The creation of NYU's new master's program for fund-raising reflects the proliferation of academic disciplines that represent the most narrow and mundane of specialties.When asked about their college majors, candidates during the recent "Miss America" ceremonies responded with such examples as "journalism and sports management," "global supply-chain management," and "exercise and sports sciences."
For top-notch football and basketball stars still in college, there is always a major in "recreational management," enabling the student-athletes to devote as much time, if not more, to the playing field than to the classroom.
The next time I am solicited for a contribution to a charitable organization,I may ask the solicitor about his or her academic credentials. I want to be sure the solicitor has been properly educated on how to ask me for money.