In Dr. Jonathan Sanford’s inaugural address, he adjured UD to consider the questions posed by Socrates at the opening of Plato’s “Phaedrus”: “Where have you been? Where are you going?”
These questions are pertinent not only in light of a new presidential era for our school, but also in light of UD’s recent endowment success of reaching the $100 million mark.
This is an incredible accomplishment and should be celebrated. But as the school’s assets increase, we should pause and ask how UD’s financial situation forms its character and how that character may change if the school’s wealth continues to grow.
At first glance, it appears obvious that increased funding would help UD’s mission as “the Catholic university for independent thinkers.” Increased financial aid would allow students to focus more single heartedly on their education.
Professors would have increased resources for scholarship and research. Funding for renovations would allow the external campus to more aptly reflect the transcendental beauty that is so beloved by UD.
Furthermore, increased endowments could allow UD to eschew federal funding. This would allow us to join schools such as Hillsdale College, Grove City College, and Christendom College in enjoying total independence from the government.
When the government gives money under Title IV, a college must cooperate with whatever is asked by the government. “As everyone knows, where there is money, there is control,” said David Whalen, former provost of Hillsdale College.
UD has always been countercultural. But as the government grows increasingly dismissive of freedom of religion and speech, reliance on Title IV will make it harder, if not impossible, to remain an institution built on tradition and virtue. Increasing endowments could eventually provide the funds necessary for UD to break ties with the federal government.
Despite the benefits of increased funding, it is important to bear in mind that an excess of wealth is imprudent and morally dangerous. In Matthew 19:24, Christ, the cornerstone of this campus, warns His followers that, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
One could argue that the ancient virtues which UD so deeply admires were borne out of poverty.
According to Agesilaus the Great, Sparta had no walls because “cities should be walled with the courage of the inhabitants.” The stubborn patriotism of Rome allowed their army to destroy the superior Carthaginians. When these empires fell, it was in part because their wealth had made them lazy and uncautious.
Although the endowment is admirable and exciting, growing too financially comfortable may tempt us to lose the ancient virtue and wisdom that we strive towards. More importantly, it may entice us to lose the Gospel virtue of simplicity and dependence on divine providence.
There is a difference between destitution and poverty. A destitute university would be catastrophic. But poverty breeds creativity. There is something endearing about our dilapidated walls and torn chairs. The physical defects of campus poetically proclaim that as long as we have our Homer, Aquinas and Shakespeare, we have all we need.
But in order to authentically partake in the wisdom of Homer, Aquinas and Shakespeare, we need to be removed from federal influence. We also need scholarship funds for students and research grants for faculty.
As UD reflects on the recent endowment, it must find the mean between destitution and wealth that allows it to pursue its identity as an independent and virtuous pursuer of goodness, truth and beauty.