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UO Foundation thanks Knight

8/21/2010: Richard Sundt from Art History has a letter in the RG on the recent advertisement the UO Foundation put in the RG. I didn’t see it but apparently they thanked Phil Knight for his contributions to UO Academics, while studiously ignoring his much larger contributions to athletics.

Board members should pay for ad

In the Aug. 18 Register-Guard, University of Oregon Foundation trustees placed an ad thanking Phil and Penny Knight on behalf of faculty and others for their “generous support of the University of Oregon.” The timing of this tribute suggests that John E. Jaqua Academic Center for Student Athletes criticism has touched a raw nerve.

The ad is troubling in several ways. A percentage of all gifts to the UO is taken by the foundation to subsidize its expenses. Fair enough. But none of those funds should be used to thank donors (and just one in particular). At the very least, funding should come directly from the pockets of board members. The ad shows the skewed agenda behind the tribute: Knight contributions to academics are listed in detail (library, law school, endowed professorships). On the other hand, Knight’s contributions to athletics are not enumerated at all: Why not list Matt Court, the Jaqua Center, Autzen, the new coaching offices and perhaps the Casanova and Moshofsky centers?

At this point, I can make only small donations to the UO. Later I may give more, but even then the amounts will be a blip on the foundation’s spread sheet. Still, on principle, I will not give funds to my department, pay dues to the friends of campus museums or pledge to KWAX until board members pay for their recent ad and place another (at their expense) thanking the Knights for every athletic facility and coaching salary supplement they have paid for over the years.

Richard Sundt
UO associate professor of art history

On balance I think I disagree with Sundt’s argument that the Foundation shouldn’t pay for these sorts of ads. I think they are a part of the the exchange of prestige for money that is the basis of most philanthropy.

But I do think that the UO Foundation’s secrecy has become a serious problem for UO. The Oregon DOJ has recently ruled they are exempt from Oregon’s public records law.  The bulk of their decisions are hidden from the public and the university community – despite the fact that they are chartered by the state for a public purpose, and that they are able to give their donors a valuable public resource – tax deductions worth about 45 cents on every dollar donated. The reports they do release are too aggregated to reveal anything useful – except the odd tidbit about extraordinary benefits payments to their retiring President, or giving the athletic department $13 million for student athlete support, only $6 million of which the department actually spent on that. So far as I can see there is no faculty representation on the Foundation’s board.

This story discusses a bill in the California Legislature to bring the university foundations there under the state’s public records law:

Lawmakers voted unanimously to require those organizations to comply with the California Public Records Act. A loophole in the law previously has allowed the nonprofits to bypass the disclosure requirements that apply to higher education institutions.

I’ve asked Oregon AG John Kroger to the same here, in his upcoming public records reform proposal to the legislature.

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