The big donors to the University are easy to spot. The $100 million that Stephen M. Ross donated to the business school is obvious to anyone on Central Campus who looks south, and the story of William Cook’s famous donation to build the Law Quad is told to all prospective students on campus tours.
But not all donations to the University, as anyone who has worked for the Telefund would know, are large, obvious or even of the monetary sort. In fact, some of the donations the University has been offered were so bizarre or inappropriate they were rejected, said Judith Malcolm, spokeswoman for the Office of Development Communications and Donor Relations.
An alum recently offered the University a taxidermied wolverine as a token of his continuing loyalty to the University. But unsure of where to display the wolverine, the University graciously declined the offer.
Malcolm said donations of decorative items like the wolverine are not uncommon. The University sometimes receives clothing from historical periods, which are passed along to the School of Music, Theatre and Dance, as well as works of art, which are given to the University of Museum of Art if they are of any value.
Another common donation to the University is real estate, both commercial and residential. Several times, the University has been named in a will as the titleholder to a deed for a piece of property.
But some of these offers were unfavorable for the University to accept. Many times they have unpaid mortgages which the University would have to pay off, are located on contaminated lots or have serious structural problems.
If the University is able to accept the donation of real estate, it is usually sold for its monetary value unless the property could be of use to the University.
The University will also receive donations that it cannot accept due to the ideology surrounding the reason for the donation.
“(W)e have to be careful that we don’t accept gifts that are illegal,” Malcolm said. “(We) cannot cross the boundaries of what an educational instruction is supposed to do.”
One donation that crossed this boundary was a monetary gift from a donor who wanted the University to create a professorship in economics — one specializing in the economic structures of fascist regimes.
Malcolm said it became evident upon further discussion that the potential donor did not just want a professor to explore fascism objectively, but rather to endorse it and promote it to the students in the class. The University did not accept the donation.
The University has also received donations of the theological sort. Recently, there was an offer to fund the construction of a chapel of a specific undisclosed denomination on campus. The University declined on the grounds that it is a secular educational institution, Malcolm said.
It is not often that the University will refuse gifts. Normally, an alum is in a constant dialogue with the University to avoid all possible donation hiccups or is already a frequent donor who knows the ropes.
But once in awhile, a new, more eccentric donor is spontaneously compelled to give back, even if that means dusting off great-grandma’s old bathing suit in the basement or having the spoils from a recent hunting trip taxidermied for the sake of an alma mater.