A public university run by private donations

GVL / Hannah Mico
DTE Energy sponsored the construction of the library; this area is on the third floor.

GVL / Hannah Mico DTE Energy sponsored the construction of the library; this area is on the third floor.

Carly Simpson

Grand Valley State University has earned a reputation for being ‘born’ by the West Michigan community and its business leaders. Although the university is past the bottle and diaper stage, corporations continue to nurture it.

“As a community asset, we know the corporations in the area feel that this is an excellent investment of their philanthropic dollars so that Grand Valley can continue to attract, educate and retain the best and brightest talent for West Michigan’s future,” said Karen Loth, vice president of University Development.

State funding has steadily decreased since 1997, and with little money coming from the government, the university relies on tuition and donations to sustain its budget.

Since 2009, University Development has raised around $1 million to $1.5 million each year from corporations, Loth said. In 2012, monetary gifts from corporations represented 11 percent of total private giving.

“In the last 20 years, the state has not had much money for construction,” said Matt McLogan, vice president for University Relations. “Of necessity, we asked business leaders to help us produce graduates. Grand Valley is no different from any other college. From day one, we’ve solicited gifts. We were born with them.”

Students and professors see proof of this as they walk past the campus buildings and rooms named after top donors, which has earned the university another reputation.

As mentioned in a previous Lanthorn article, “Roasting Lubbers,” GVSU alumnus and Ionia Mayor Dan Balice joked about having a toilet dedicated in his honor.

“If you’ve ever been to Kistler Hall, go to the fourth floor, men’s lavatory, third stall, it’s the Balice toilet,” he said. “Cost me 50 bucks, and Tom Haas tells me tonight there are still naming opportunities for the urinals.”

Although bathrooms on campus remain untouched by corporations, a growing trend is being seen at GVSU as students’ study spaces are being transformed by corporate undertones. This year alone, 31 rooms on campus have been named after corporations. The L. William Seidman Center has 18, the Robert B. Annis Field Station has 10, and the Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons has three.

“Corporations give to non-profit organizations, like Grand Valley, to support their desire to be good corporate citizens and community partners,” Loth said.

Along with the warm, fuzzy feeling of philanthropy, though, these corporations are getting another return on their investments: name recognition. Thousands of GVSU students use these rooms every day.

“I really like going to the DTE Innovation room at the library,” junior Kelsey Martin said. “It’s a comfortable environment to study in and for meeting with groups. I think it can be seen as a form of positive advertising for them. It brings a twist to our campus that I think many students will notice.”

Loth disagreed, stating that corporate philanthropy and outreach is not the same as advertising.

“While their corporate name might get exposure in a building, they are not giving for that reason, and they could get much more exposure if they invested the same dollars into actual advertising,” she said.

The Grand Valley University Foundation plays a large role in creating and maintaining the university’s private and public partnerships and completing fundraising campaigns. Top donors to any given capital project are offered naming opportunities as available, Loth said, and they are able to select within a set of options or decline recognition.

“Corporations don’t come in and say ‘I want to buy a classroom,’ typically anyways,” said Nancy French, senior director of communications for University Development.

GVSU has five donor societies, which receive recognition for the different amounts they contribute. There are three lifetime giving societies: the Gillett Society, DeVos Society and the Seidman Society. The Lubbers and University societies are comprised of annual donors.

The DeVos Society includes donors such as Amway Corp., Meijer and Steelcase Inc., which have made gifts totaling $1 million or more in their lifetime.

The Seidman Society has three recognition levels: Founder ($500,000- $999,999), Pacesetter ($250,000-$499,999) and Benefactor ($100,000- $249,999). Autocam Corp., SPX Corp. and the DTE Energy Foundation are several members of the Founder level. Hines Corp. and the Grand Rapids Press are Pacesetters. Contributors at the Benefactor level include IMB Corp. and Microsoft Corp.

At GVSU, the top donors—including Amway, Meijer and Steelcase Inc.—are also top employers for graduates.

“Their support is essential today,” McLogan said. “We are delighted that the same businessmen who support our university also hire our graduates. It’s a great relationship.”

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