(January 25, 2021) While big dollar donations to universities are ‘on the rise,’ as the University of Toronto’s vice president of advancement David Palmer told the Globe and Mail’s Joe Friesen, very little of the big dollar donations will ever impact the life of the average student.
The story referred to the September 2020 announcement of a record-breaking $250 million donation made by James Temerty, founder of Northland Power, and his wife Louise. The gift is a “mix of endowed and expendable funds,” according to the university’s student newspaper The Varsity, and one of its priorities is the establishment of the Temerty Centre for AI [Artificial Intelligence] Research and Education in Medicine.”
The university’s Faculty of Medicine will now become the Temerty Faculty of Medicine.
In Spring 2010, Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman donated $100-million to the university also focused on AI, specifically “advancing how AI, biomedicine and other disruptive technologies can enrich lives.”
The university’s last campaign, the Boundless campaign brought in more than $2.6-billion. Yet only a tiny amount of these big dollar donations contributes to the university’s operating budget.
In 2019, the Varsity published a first-person account of a first-year student.
“I recall my first day at U of T, when I walked into Convocation Hall for an introductory sociology class with 1,500 fellow classmates — a crowd over three times as large as my entire high school … Not a single one of my first-year classes had less than 400 students. I felt completely lost, but this is normal at U of T.”
According to the university’s 2020 financial report, the University of Toronto had an operating revenue of $3.62 billion—$1.81 billion of which came from student fees, $719 million came from the Government of Ontario for general operations, $463 million came from government for restricted purposes, largely for capital infrastructure, $178 million from investment income and $85 million from donations.
Yet, it is the donor not the taxpayer in whose interest the university’s advancement department operates.
As vice president of advancement David Palmer says, the big dollar gift opportunities are tailored to be of interest to the donor. As the Globe and Mail said, “Mr. Palmer didn’t approach Mr. Temerty … until he had an idea that would align with Mr. Temerty’s philanthropic goals, which have focused in part on health care and medical research.”
“There’s ample evidence that these large gifts cause others to think about what they’re doing to lift their sights,” Palmer said. “I think we all feel that we have barely begun to tap the enormous financial capacity for philanthropy that exists in our society.”
Given the increase in the amount of money billionaires in Canada made throughout the COVID pandemic, this is very likely true. But it will be the interests of the donors the university will pitch, not the interests of the students. The Canadian taxpayer, and the students themselves, take care of that. But you won’t see their names bolted to the sides of buildings.
Billionaires getting richer during pandemic January 25, 2021