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Gifts - for MIT and Marilyn

Column/Daniel Crean

"I don't care about money. I just want to be wonderful."

Marilyn Monroe.->

"I have become convinced that not only is the Institute's endowment presently too small by a substantial margin, but ... [that it] must be greatly expanded if we are to secure MIT's future as the premier science-based university in the world." President Paul E. Gray '54 in report of the president for 1983-84.

Money makes the world go round, especially the part of the world known as MIT. Money is the lifeblood of this place -- it's the lifeblood of any institution with a $600 million annual budget. That's why money and how to get more of it is a big topic on the agenda of most of the administrators, faculty, and students here.

It's also why MIT is about to embark on a major fund-raising drive. To keep up with the high standards MIT has set for itself, the Institute needs to spend big bucks. Unlike Marilyn Monroe, MIT can't be wonderful without money.

Of course, Marilyn didn't have 22 academic departments, several hundred faculty, and 9500 students to worry about. Marilyn also died when she was 36 years old. The Institute is well over 100 and still chugging along, looking to the future.

It's this incessant eye toward the future that keeps MIT constantly grubbing for more money. If we knew the world were going to end in a few years, MIT could splurge and spend its entire endowment between now and the end. Tuition could be cut drastically and there wouldn't have to be any tightening of the budgets at the Institute.

But nobody can count on the world ending in the next few years, and MIT wants to maintain its quality and size in the long run. That is why there is the constant emphasis on raising money, both through gifts and high tuition.

You might, as a student, feel a little bit used. You come here for four years, you pay a few tens of thousands of dollars, and then you're out. Some other student comes to take your place and pay tuition instead of you. Gifts are coming in from corporate and alumni benefactors. MIT goes on just as it always did.

So being an MIT student is a bit like being Joe Di Maggio, one of Marilyn's husbands. Joe and Marilyn were married for only less than two years, and then Marilyn's life went on. She made more movies and was involved with more men. But Joe never remarried. Both Joe and the MIT student had once in a lifetime experiences. When they were done, Marilyn and MIT went forward.

For MIT, going forward means raising money. There's no way it can or will ever stop. If it does, its quality will decline. The Student recently said "MIT is a corporation and is intent on securing its own profits," and that administration officials are "unhappy that MIT is only the tenth largest university corporation and not the first."

These statements are a little bit exaggerated, but the basic idea is right. MIT is a corporation -- a non-profit, educational corporation -- but still a corporation. It does want to be big and great and "the premier science-based university in the world," even if the costs are very high.

The goal of for-profit corporations is to make money. The goal of MIT is to be good: at education, at research, and at scholarship. And sometimes, in MIT's view at least, good means big. Thus there are major investments in various areas of academia. Growth requires money, and maintaining the quality of programs means more money. There's an endless thirst for funds.

The need for money can never abate. If MIT ran a surplus, it would immediately find a way to spend it on some new program or building.

But what about those students who went through MIT? Are they as reluctant to give MIT money as they were when they were paying tuition? No, actually a lot of them donate money.

A significant portion of gifts to the Institute comes from former students. The Alumni Association is forever soliciting money, and many alumni apparently enjoy giving money to MIT.

For about 15 years after Marilyn Monroe died, somebody regularly sent flowers to her grave. The flowers were anonymous, but it was widely suspected that Joe Di Maggio was sending them.

Alumni donations are a bit like those flowers Joe kept sending to his wife 20 years after they were divorced. The money donations are a little more useful than the flowers, but the idea is the same. Marilyn and Joe, and MIT and the MIT alumni have all parted, but there's still some love left, which leads to gifts.

But the flowers only decorate the grave. The money is the lifeblood of MIT. It takes only one bouquet to make Marilyn's grave look wonderful, but no matter how many donations MIT gets there will always be a need for more money.