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While student protests at colleges have decreased the number of alumni donations at some schools, Penn's alumni donations have remained consistent.

Credit: Drew McKinzie

At some schools across the country, alumni have recently spoken up about their dissatisfaction with student activism at their alma maters, which led them to decrease or completely stop their donations. Student dissent on campus, however, does not appear to have swayed Penn’s alumni donors from digging into their pockets.

The New York Times reported last month that, at colleges like Amherst or Princeton, strong student protests caused a “backlash” of decreased alumni donations to these schools.

At Penn, however, undergraduate alumni donation levels have remained consistent, while the number of total donors continues to climb steeply upwards. In fiscal year 2016, a record 27,000 undergraduate alumni contributed a total of $31.9 million to the school, according to The Penn Fund’s 2015-16 Penn Fund Honor Roll publication. This was an increase of 351 donors since the last fiscal year, and a slight decrease of about one percent in donations.

1941 Wharton graduate Leroy Fadem said he has been giving to Penn for over 50 years -- a philanthropic effort unshaken by student activism on campus.

“It’s shaped my life. I felt that as long as I had the ability and the capacity to contribute to Penn, I’ve been doing so, for many, many years,” he said.

In the 2015-16 Penn Fund Honor Roll, Fadem is listed as a “Perfect Penn Donor,” symbolizing his “consecutive giving in all alumni years.” Fadem was also listed as a “Diamond Member,” which signifies 25 plus years of giving. For the 2015-16 fundraising year, Fadem donated an amount of $1,000 or more to the school.

Fadem said it was possible that his donations could be affected by events on campus — specifically, by how administrators reacted to incidents of contentious student activism.

“If it’s something that really was a major situation that I disagreed about with the administration that reacted to it, it could conceivably affect my giving,” he said.

But he added that it was “too hypothetical of a question, because there’s all sorts of incidents that I’ve read about at other institutions, and things I would not agree with, but it hasn’t happened at Penn as I know of.”

Similar to Fadem’s stance on giving, the University has not seen any connection between dissatisfaction with student activism on campus and level of alumni donations, according to Vice President of Development and Alumni Relations John Zeller.

“Student activism has not impacted giving so far,” Zeller wrote in an emailed statement. “Our alumni are very diverse, and have many differing opinions on topics. That said, they also realize that Penn strongly supports free speech, and that a University is a place where opinions should be shared and discussed.”

Fadem’s son, 1972 Wharton graduate Steven Fadem, recalled how his father maintained donations to the University even when highly divisive war protests were raging across college campuses in America.

“When I was at Penn, I was on the DP, and I covered the [story of when] College Hall was shut down by protests during the Cambodian invasion,” he said. “There were things going on during that period that were as controversial in their time as some of the events that are affecting campus today. My dad continued his contributions to Penn in support of the institution.”

Leroy Fadem said that Penn has changed notably since he was a student on campus, but that giving back to Penn was a way for him contribute “a token of affection” to the school and shape its future.

“What Penn is today is nothing like what Penn was like when I attended there,” he said. “It’s many, many more buildings, and I remember Penn as a smaller institution. I give to Penn because I feel I don’t give a significant amount you can build buildings with, but I’ve been contributing to Penn at what I feel is a reasonable and modest amount.”

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