Saturday, December 20, 2008

Minnesota College Bans Bay Buchanan from Campus

Administrators at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota-the nation's largest Catholic women's college-unexpectedly blocked young conservatives on campus from hosting Bay Buchanan, a popular conservative commentator and U.S. Treasurer under President Reagan. The speech was scheduled for Wednesday, October 22, but was abruptly canceled after college officials deemed Ms. Buchanan's remarks on "Feminism and the 2008 Election" too politically charged, citing concerns about the school's tax status. "Because we are a 501(c)(3) organization, the College of St. Catherine has sought to avoid any appearance of partisanship during the 2008 political season," said College spokesman Julie Michener.

That Ms. Michener can say that with a straight face is remarkable, considering the actions of her school's program, Voter Education 2008. Program-sponsored seminars have highlighted student agitators protesting the GOP's convention and featured a representative from the Joint Religious Legislative Task Force, which pushes for universal healthcare and minimum wage increases.

St. Catherine's student handbook claims, "Students enjoy the collective assurance and protection of free inquiry and open exchange of facts, ideas and openness." Except, not really. St. Catherine is filtering out ideas it doesn't want its students to hear.

In the last year, school officials sponsored vocal Hillary Clinton supporter Maya Angelou, NPR's liberal correspondent Mara Liasson, and the anti-war radical Frank Kroncke. But Bay Buchanan? Well, she's partisan, according to St. Catherine's administration.

The whole notion that a college or university's tax status would be in jeopardy is also a canard, and St. Catherine's administrators know it. The IRS in its Revenue Ruling 2007-41 Publication allows colleges and universities to host candidates or supporters of candidates without being in violation of the law. The violation occurs when such institutions prohibit a balance of ideas between parties and candidates, which means that by freezing out Bay Buchanan under the ruse of non-partisanship (while entertaining explicitly leftist viewpoints), St. Catherine is more likely to be defying IRS guidelines.

Moreover, St. Catherine boasts membership with the Associated Colleges of the Twin Cities, in which other participating colleges have organized unequivocally political events. Macalester College, for instance, recently featured a rally with Michelle Obama that drew not only her husband's supporters but prominent liberal politicians as well, including St. Paul's Mayor and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar. At St. Thomas College, Al Franken made a campaign stop in the school's auditorium.

Even if St. Catherine's officials are ignorant about IRS strictures (which is dubious) and the rallies taking place in their own backyard (doubly dubious), the fact that Barack Obama has spoken at more than 170 colleges and universities in his quest for the presidency and not a single school has had its tax exempt status threatened should have tipped them off that no legal ramifications would ensue by hosting Ms. Buchanan-who's neither a politician nor on John McCain's staff.

Students at St. Catherine requested to hear Bay Buchanan's perspective on American feminism, and Young America's Foundation along with the Minnesota Association of Scholars provided the funding to enable her appearance. St. Catherine merely had to provide a room for its students. Its failure to do so, aggravated by its flimsy excuse for the refusal, suggests a more sinister motive behind the cancellation of Ms. Buchanan's speech and an utter contempt for intellectual diversity.

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Princeton Pays $100 Million over misused legacy

You will remember that the Robertson family had charged that Princeton had repeatedly violated donor intent by misusing funds contributed to the university by their parents, Charles and Marie Robertson -- he a devoted Princeton alumnus, she an heiress to the A&P fortune. Princeton's response to the lawsuit, originally filed in 2002, had been, first, to dismiss its merit, and then to demean the plaintiffs and, finally, to launch a war of attrition designed to exhaust the family and deplete its resources. This attack launched, mind you, against the university's most generous donor family.

Here's the backstory on Wednesday's news. Princeton settled, we sense, for two reasons, one obvious, the other less so. Up against a hard trial date of January 21, Princeton attorneys plotted the arc of a trial under the format prescribed by the newly appointed judge. What quickly became apparent was that the trial would begin with a lengthy recitation of Princeton's (alleged) malefactions -- its misallocations of large chunks of overhead, its improper billing of professors and other personnel, the construction of a building (a building!) wrongly charged to the Robertsons. The opening weeks of what was expected to be a three-month trial would amount to a jaw-dropping tale of more than $200 million of Robertson Foundation funds misused by one Princeton administration after another. By the time Robertson attorneys had completed their presentation, Princeton might have looked like the L. Dennis Kozlowski of American universities. Remember, too, that this courtroom drama would have played out in Trenton, New Jersey, just a short commute from the media capital of the world, where the trial would have been catnip in equal measure to good-gray broadsheets and taunting tabloids. After the first few days of testimony, the Princeton development office would have had all the bounce and jingle of a Christmas party at Lehman Brothers.

Reason enough to settle, to be sure, but what sharpened the focus of the institutional mind, we surmise, was the beginning of an implausible cash squeeze. Princeton sits atop a huge endowment, reported earlier this year to have topped $15 billion. But a review of public filings for its most recent fiscal year suggests the problem. Here's how Princeton reported its asset allocation: Hedge funds - 26%; Domestic equity - 9%; Fixed income - 3%; Foreign equity - 16%; Private equity - 25%; Real assets - 19%; Cash - 1%.

That's a lot of illiquidity. Just take the hedge funds, the PE investments and "real assets" (by which they mean timberland, commercial buildings and such like). That's 70% of the portfolio subject to contractual lockups, market rigidities and other liquidity constraints. All of the university's cash needs must be met by the other 30%. (One of the reasons stocks sold off so sharply this fall is that, in large portfolios like Princeton's, stocks are one of the few assets that can be sold.) To get a sense of the dynamic, take a look at the Robertson Foundation, whose assets are managed in common with the university endowment. The Foundation's assets reached a high-water mark last year of $930 million. Our back-of-the-envelope calculation is that the fund had dropped to $585 million by the time the settlement deal was struck. Princeton's leadership may be venal, and has for years been arrogant in the extreme, but it's not stupid.

As for the Robertson family, after seven years of hard slog, they weren't feeling fresh as daisies, either. Imagine, if you will, the challenge of holding four branches of a family together when, month after month, the only things going out are six figures worth of expenses and the only things coming in are ad hominem mudballs tossed by one of the most prestigious institutions in the country. In our view, the lead plaintiff, William Robertson, should win the Kissinger Medal in Shuttle Diplomacy. He held the family to its honorable course from day one to day last.

Most remarkably of all, the family knew when to take yes for an answer, which is a path rarely seen clearly through the fog of battle. It was never part of the Robertsons' purpose to damage Princeton as an institution. The family's twin objectives were proximate and discrete and, in the settlement reached yesterday, they achieved them both. First, they reclaimed resources sufficient to carry out their parents' original intention. The new Robertson philanthropy will be a significant force in developing young Americans for government service in the international arena -- Foreign Service officers, development and trade officials, intelligence analysts, and so on. (And this just at a moment when the Obama administration has announced its intention to shift strategic emphasis to diplomatic initiatives.) And second, the Robertsons have set an instructive and hopeful example for donors and grantees everywhere. The next time a nonprofit executive is seized by larcenous impulse it may be necessary only to whisper in his ear the magic word, "Princeton."

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1 comment:

Robert said...

The IRS in its Revenue Ruling 2007-41 Publication allows colleges and universities to host candidates or supporters of candidates without being in violation of the law. The violation occurs when such institutions prohibit a balance of ideas between parties and candidates...

I think we've discovered a tactic that could start being used against institutions that practice ideological bigotry against conservative viewpoints - go after their tax-exempt status. The record of who they have allowed on campus and who they have refused should be easy enough to obtain, and would be the best evidence of those that "prohibit a balance of ideas between parties and candidates."

Meanwhile on another issue, an interesting idea was presented to the Joint Economic Committee of Georgia state legislators on December 10, 2008:

To attract new residents to Georgia (and buy up surplus real estate), get on a program with the local governments to sell the schools and repeal all property taxes.

The rationale for proposing such a radical idea now being that after a few years of difficult economic times, some radical solutions are going to be sought, and it would be good to have the seeds planted early.

Joint Economic Video Presentation