The two excellent articles about Julius Rosenwald in the May/June issue of Philanthropy reinforced my strong beliefs on foundation term limits. I applaud Julius Rosenwald’s stipulation that the fund he established spend down within one generation, i.e., within 25 years after his death. Trustees of foundations operating in perpetuity will often want to conserve capital rather than make a significant impact on current societal problems.
There is another consideration that has guided the trustees of the Jaquelin Hume Foundation in their decision to spend down its funds: donor intent. The foundation has based its grantmaking activities on Jaquelin H. Hume’s Statement to the Trustees of the Jaquelin Hume Foundation, dated December 19, 1990, just prior to his death.
The statement of donor intent crafted two areas of interest:
· Educating young people to be better citizens, to appreciate the value of our free enterprise, incentive-based society, and to have sound values.
· Improving the structure and function of government by reducing the control of our lives by the federal government.
It helps to have good guidelines. It helps to have trustees who knew the founder and believe in the guidelines. We review the Statement prior to every board meeting, and it informs our grantmaking decisions.
We have decided to spend down the corpus of the foundation during the lifetimes of the trustees primarily because the members of the next generation have their own careers, their own interests and, most importantly, their own views of the world. Observing my portion of the next generation, ages 29, 33, 36—they have different views of the world than mine, which I celebrate and support, but which do not coincide with Jack Hume’s beliefs. It is hard enough for the current trustees to adhere to his intent; it would be doubly difficult for my children to do so.
Also, philanthropists can’t assume that the rules governing foundations are immutable. They should anticipate that the unexpected can happen and provide for it by having a meaningful, focused statement of donor intent, having trustees who share the same beliefs as the founder, and establishing that the foundation will spend down its funds within a given period of time after the founder’s death.
—William J. Hume
Jaquelin Hume Foundation
San Francisco, California
Think Tanks & Public Policy
In his recent review of my book, Think Tanks, Public Policy, and the Politics of Expertise, Albert Keith Whitaker ignores most of the substance of my analysis and instead complains about what he perceives to be my “latent hostility to conservative think tanks.” This hostility, Whitaker alleges, manifests itself in my worry about an erosion in the potential for think tanks to be “effective” in American policymaking due to the growth in the number of ideological, particularly conservative think tanks.
The concern with diminished “effectiveness” is Whitaker’s, not mine. (Strangely, it’s a word he uses 16 times in his two and a half page review but one that rarely appears in the book and certainly isn’t an organizing principle.) In my view, think tanks are tremendously effective and influential. The interesting questions are: How, when, and why are they influential? These are empirical, not ideological questions, and they are the real focus of the book. The answers to these questions have implications that donors should consider when supporting public policy think tanks.
The proliferation of ideological, particularly conservative think tanks, like the Heritage Foundation and Cato Institute, is a positive development for the marketplace of ideas. But this development has politicized expertise in new ways. Today, many think tanks aren’t so much places for experts and research as they are organizations that can advance ideas and core values. Research is often a product of places like Heritage and Cato, but conservatives—and now increasingly liberals—aren’t creating scores of think tanks simply so that there is more policy research available to policymakers. They are creating think tanks to advance their ideological aspirations for society; research (along with advocacy, organizing, and communications) is a means to that end, helping to advance these broader, ideological goals.
The influence of these think tanks has far less to do with the substantive impact of individual research studies and far more to do with their cumulative effect on the worldviews and fundamental priorities of policymakers and the public. Rather than making judgments about one type of think tank or another, my book sorts out the differences among them—the varied missions, goals, strategies, and staffing patterns of think tanks, variation that should be important to those who support think tank work.
The new generation of think tanks has proven that marketing matters. You might have good ideas or good research, but without aggressive efforts to communicate them among policymakers and journalists, they won’t gain traction. This isn’t an entirely new development, but for donors, the importance of marketing can make think tanks a smart investment. They have become efficient, relatively cheap vehicles for promoting ideas and influencing public debates. Some of the most successful devote a third of their budgets to public affairs and communications, and they see a return on that commitment in the form of visibility and influence.
Think tanks are efficient and influential, but a consequence of these developments is diminished standing for experts and expertise among important policymaking audiences. Research has long been used to serve political purposes, but historically it was politicians—not researchers—who politicized it. This has changed, in part due to the aggressive efforts of the newer ideological think tanks that have forced experts and expert organizations to politicize research on their own—to act more as pundits than prophets. Where once experts were understood as neutral and detached (even if that has always been more an aspiration than a reality), today the idea of the “objective analyst” has been thoroughly discredited among most policymaking audiences.
This change in standing invites more frequent and successful challenges to rigorous scientific and social scientific research from all sources (like those we’ve experienced recently in the areas of climate change and evolution). Experts are evaluated more on the basis of whether they share preexisting values and policy positions rather than whether their work reflects rigorous research. These are developments of concern to many Americans, conservative and non-conservative alike, who in recent polls express worry about the politicization of expertise, and, as I explain in the book, these are developments to which think tanks have contributed.
In a contentious marketplace of ideas, I’m the first to agree that there is no “neutral” or “objective” space. A vigorous debate over core beliefs and values is appropriate and desirable. But there is also need for careful empirical, as opposed to ideological and normative, research. Even aggressive advocates in the war of ideas would be well served to preserve a space in public discourse for rigorous expertise. Ideas and expertise are not the same thing, and our society is ill served if we sacrifice the latter to advance the former.
Associate Professor of Political Science
City College of New York
Andrew Keith Whitaker replies:
I appreciate Professor Rich’s reply to my review. But his letter seems to me to struggle with the same contradiction as his book. On the one hand, he denies the possibility of objective, neutral analysis. On the other hand, he calls for more “rigorous research” rather than marketing, empirical studies rather than politics. Rich joins me in distancing himself from the social science tradition that champions objective research. Then he calls for more such research. I agree with Professor Rich that ideas and expertise are not the same. But I would add that there’s no expert who does not work, openly or covertly, for an idea.