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Exxon's chief asks corporations to give more unrestricted gifts

The American free-enterprise system and academic freedom are cooperating as they never have before. Corporate giving "to the college of your choice" amounted last year to 17 percent of total voluntary support of education, which totaled $3.23 billion.

And according to Clifton C. Garvin Jr., chief executive officer of Exxon Corporation, corporate giving should continue to rise. Further, corporate giving should be more free -- with fewer strings attached. Example: Exxon and MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) have signed an agreement for basic research on combustion, with Exxon providing some $8 million over a 10 -year period.

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This is one of the few instances of corporate support of basic -- rather than applied -- research.

But Mr. Garvin would go even further -- he would like to see corporations provide unrestricted gifts to educational institutions and would support more giving in the area of the humanities.

Speaking to a Boston-based group of corporate and academic leaders as chairman of the Council for Financial Aid to Education, he emphasized a need for a rich and broad college experience. This from a chemical engineer with BS and MS from Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

He spelled out some of academia's pressing needs, including the persistent concern that pre-college schooling has deteriorated, particularly in the area of fundamental skills. Exxon's board chairman, experiencing first-hand the international nature of corporate business today, listed as a high priority a need for better (and broader) education in international business.

His statistic for a description of the need is impressive: "There are more teachers of English in the Soviet Union than there are students of Russian in the US." And then, chastising his brethren, provided another statistic: "Only 1 percent of corporate giving supports international education."

And he would have corporations give more. While they represent 17 percent of all volunteer giving, their dollars only represent 1 percent of the cost, and this, he points out, is too low for much impact.

Further, adjusting for inflation, corporations are not providing any more funds today than 10 years ago.

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Yet, the number of supporters continues to grow, and several hundred corporations do stimulate private giving by offering to match gifts to schools and colleges by employees. And this figure, the Council for Financial Aid to Education, is proud to say is rising.

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