Say What? A University President Becomes a Major Donor To His Own School

I've written before about monied university professors as a surprising source of higher education gifts. In one case, a Villanova University business school professor and his family gave $2 million to create a business analytics fund in their name. In another, a music professor at USC gave $7 million to support violin and cello students on campus. 


There are good reasons that more faculty can afford to give in an era when lots of inherited wealth is being passed down and when some professors are able to turn their research breakthroughs into serious fortunes. 

Well, here's another figure on campus that may have some spare change: university presidents.

Consider the case of Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University, who joined the school back in 2002. In years past, Crow has been on Chronicle of Higher Education's top 10 earners for public college presidents. In 2007 and 2008, he earned $728,750. Last year, the Arizona State board of regents approved a 20 percent raise in base pay for Crow that pushed his total annual compensation to nearly $900,000. 

The country's top earning college and university presidents can earn quite a lot of money. In 2013 and 2014, Penn State University's then president received nearly $1.5 million, making him the top earner at a public university. Additionally, these campus figures may have serious money for the same reasons as professors, such as marriage and family inheritance. 

All of this context for the news that ASU President Crow and his wife Sybil Francis recently gave $1.2 million to Arizona State University to fund the Michael M. Crow and Sybil Francis Endowed Directorship for the Public Service Academy. The ASU Public Service Academy is a new center created to "educate purpose-driven leaders who intend to serve in nonprofits, the civil service, and the military."

The academy is part of ASU's College of Public Service and Community Solutions, where Crow is a professor of science and technology policy and public affairs, in addition to his leadership position on campus. Crow, in fact, has been engaged in public service for years, and started when he joined an affiliate program of Volunteers Service America (VISTA) in 1974. Crow's wife Sybil, meanwhile, started her career as a congressional aide and later served in the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy. Over the past 15 years, she's been deeply involved in public policy issues in Arizona, as one of the founders and leaders of the Center for the Future of Arizona, among other roles. 

Since Crow is the son of a U.S. Navy sailor, we're betting that any family money behind the couple's ASU gift comes from Francis's side. 

It's worth noting that the gift partly comprises contributions by private supporters to the Presidential Leadership Chair, which is described as a "fund created to provide ASU with the resources to retain and incentivize university presidents." This serves as a good reminder that sometimes when it comes to university presidents and professors, these kinds of gifts might require all hands on deck.