Academics should embrace philanthropic activities in higher education and recognise that there’s “a real reward” in getting involved in fundraising, according to a dean at a Canadian university.
Edward Iacobucci, dean and James M. Tory professor of law at the University of Toronto, said that scholars “can’t be aloof” from alumni engagement and fundraising and should not see such activity as the academic equivalent of a “trip to the dentist”.
“It is profoundly important that academics and scholars see themselves as part of that enterprise,” he told Times Higher Education. “They should recognise that there’s a real reward in getting involved in this, not only because it can do great things for the institution but [also because] it is a reminder of how the institution is important.”
Professor Iacobucci said that his position as head of an academic department was a “challenging” job, particularly given that there are now “budget pressures that didn’t exist in the same way historically”.
But he singled out philanthropy as one of the “unexpected real advantages” of his role and an activity that is “important on a professional level” and “actually fun” on a personal level.
“It doesn’t feel entirely natural to ask people for money. That’s not something that we normally do in our day-to-day lives. But what is fun is meeting really interesting people,” he said.
“There are many places that will have an alumni base that is doing really interesting things all over the world. Just getting to talk to them about what they’re doing is actually a great deal of fun.”
Becoming involved in fundraising has also meant that Professor Iacobucci “cares” more about the university, because he can “see the role that it plays in people’s lives”.
“To meet alumni who say, ‘you know I think about my law school education every day and here’s how’, it’s really gratifying,” he said. “I’ve been teaching for 20 years and I’ll occasionally see alumni here and there in a scattered way but not in a systematic way.
“In this job, it’s been a privilege to, in a systematic way, touch base with a lot of different alumni and hear from them how important different aspects of the programme [have been] to them. [It makes you] think [that] this is really meaningful work.”
Professor Iacobucci said that Canada was probably about a “decade” ahead of the UK in terms of higher education fundraising, but reiterated that the UK could become stronger at this activity by getting academics more involved.
“Don’t be aloof from it and recognise the benefits for the institution – not just financial but also the intellectual and professional value-added that your graduates can bring to your students,” he advised scholars.
He added that there are many ways in which academics can work with alumni, highlighting that former students are “really useful complements to our academic programming”.
“We bring back alumni all the time to talk to our students about their future careers,” he said. “They’re a great resource for the student body and alumni really enjoy that kind of interaction.”