Charitable professors: Donating your money to the University

Two weeks ago I read the news about Classics Professor Douglas MacDowell of the University of Glasgow, who donated after his death over 2 million pounds to his department. The Scottish Academic left the money to the university with the provision that they would fund his old position of Professorship in Greek. It seems that because of financial difficulties Glasgow University has not advertised this post after he retired. The chair remained empty and the sustainability of the subject on the whole was at stake. Recognising the inherent dangers of such a situation, the professor decided to pursuit a modern standard of living and to donate his remaining property for the benefit of Classics.

Charity in the UK is not such a widespread phenomenon as it is in the United States or, as a matter of fact, in Greece. I have noticed that departments are hard-pressed to find alumni who care about the future of their alma mater and are willing to contribute financially. Professors, on the other hand, are still concerned about the future of the subject they studied with so much passion throughout their lives. Usually, they donate their books to libraries and other institutions; an excellent resource for students and staff alike. Rarely, though, do they provide universities with money. One of the reasons may be the fact that they leave behind them a family that still needs their financial help. Given the fact that more and more academics die childless, the trend may change in the course of the 21st century.

I am not against the charitable behaviour of staff or alumni. In fact, I come from a culture that promotes the idea of benefactions. Epirotean benefactors have been shiny examples of proper social conduct ever since I was born. I benefitted from their legacies and I hope that one day society will benefit from mine. However, I have to question the role of the British state in keeping subjects, such as Classics and Ancient History, alive. The preservation of University Chairs should not rely solely on the goodwill of the members of the profession. The State needs to step in and take on the responsibility of promoting Humanities subjects. I know that this is not very likely, given the current obsession with short-term financial sustainability. However, I would still like to hope that I am working for a state that has ideals and vision for the future.

Economic historian and numismatic consultant

Leave a Reply