It was the fall of 2009 when the Rev. Ann M. Svennungsen began reading a book that would change her life.
Reverend Svennungsen, then president of Texas Lutheran University, was hardly the first person to be moved by Peter Singer’s The Life You Can Save. The Princeton University bioethicist’s 2009 book is often cited by philanthropists, who find it difficult to reject Mr. Singer’s argument that the failure of people who are relatively well off financially to eradicate global poverty is an unconscionable moral stain.
Reverend Svennungsen saw something of herself in Mr. Singer’s book. She could give more, she thought. So, too, could other similarly situated college presidents, whom she believes have missed an opportunity to use their influence and wealth to help the 24,000 children who die every day from preventable poverty-related causes, according to United Nations estimates.
“I began to think about college presidents as a cohort of leaders with an unparalleled platform in terms of their leadership in the communities they engage. And I think almost all of them make over $100,000 a year,” said Reverend Svennungsen, who resigned from Texas Lutheran in 2010 with a total compensation of $226,308.
Today, 28 current and former college leaders will publicly come forward as charter members of the Presidents’ Pledge Against Global Poverty. (The site is scheduled to go live at 8 a.m.) In so doing, they commit to join Reverend Svennungsen by donating 5 percent of their total compensation this year to charities that fight global poverty.
The list includes presidents from liberal-arts colleges, religiously affiliated institutions, and a few research universities.
Kevin P. Reilly, president of the University of Wisconsin system and a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, said he saw the pledge as an opportunity to emulate some of his higher-education heroes. Leaders like the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, former president of Notre Dame, were involved in matters of social import, such as the civil-rights movement, in a way that Mr. Reilly sees few college presidents engaged today.
“We have tended to get so caught up in budgets and culture wars and local politics,” he said. “I don’t think many of us have stepped out as much as we should on these larger societal and international issues, like global poverty.”
The pledge is designed to help reach the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which include halving the number of people in the world who live in extreme poverty by 2015. That goal is already on track to being met, but progress has been slower in improving nutrition and survival among the world’s poorest, including children, the United Nations says. <Read more.>