Much ado about two

“Porker of the Month,” shrieked Ohio’s Buckeye Institute. “KSU keeping Cartwright draws criticism,” added The Plain Dealer. “KSU pays for two presidents,” wrote the Beacon Journal.

If you read the headlines, you would think a lot of people are angry over the Kent State Board of Trustees’ decision to keep outgoing President Carol Cartwright on board as adviser and fundraiser. There’s such outrage that we’re still waiting for the first letter to the editor about the situation.

We’re not sure what all the fuss is about.

Sure, Cartwright will maintain her $270,000 salary plus benefits for the next year. Do we wish that she had taken a pay cut now that her duties are far less? Sure.

But still, $270,000 is a pretty minuscule portion of the Kent State budget – 0.08 percent or so of this year’s $329 million. And with 32,000 enrollees, each student’s portion works out to about $10.

That’s a small price to pay if Cartwright can help the university continue the fundraising streak of her 15-year tenure. During that time, Kent State held its first major campaign. The target was $100 million; Cartwright and her team exceeded the goal by $20 million.

The Buckeye Institute would have us believe that the university is “brazenly wasting . taxpayer dollars” while complaining that the state is not providing adequate funding to meet needs. The institute, in its recent press release, would rather see new President Lester Lefton have no transition period with his predecessor – a wiser expenditure of money, according to them.

As we noted in our June 21 editorial, “taxpayer dollars” continue to support public universities less and less. Even in those years when the Ohio legislature increases higher education funding, expenses skyrocket at a much higher pace. Taxpayers’ money just isn’t keeping up with the need.

That’s why fundraising is so important.

Changes in leadership at the university level can make donors skittish. Just look at Harvard – in the wake of President Lawrence H. Summers’ abrupt resignation this year, four donors canceled pledges in the staggering amount of $390 million, according to a Wall Street Journal article.

You can’t compare Cartwright’s and Summers’ departures – Kent State had no scandal, whereas Harvard was embroiled in faculty revolt and outrage – but stability is key when asking donors to commit to giving their hard-earned money to the university.

Philanthropists don’t receive goods for their gifts; instead they receive goodwill and satisfaction that their contribution will make a difference. When they don’t know if the new university vision aligns with their interests, writing that check isn’t so easy.

To donors, our new president is an unknown, which may make some nervous and cause them to rethink or postpone gifts. And that means less money in the university’s piggy bank.

If philanthropic money dries up, even in the short run, someone’s going to have to pay. And seeing how tight the legislature has been over the years, that leaves student tuition as the only source to fill the gap.

Just imagine the cost to students if Cartwright hadn’t led the charge to raise $120 million in the last campaign. We’re certain it would total a lot more out of our pockets than what we’re currently being asked to pay for her services.

If Cartwright’s finessing of donors can keep the university’s fundraising rolling along, we’ll dig into our change jars for that extra $10.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Summer Kent Stater editorial board.