Repair Fund

“My dear Mr. Schmidlapp: I thank you very much for your letter of January 3rd, also, for yours of December 7th, which I did not have the privilege of answering in person. We thank you for your subscription of One Hundred Dollars toward the Repair Fund. This will help us much.” – Booker T. Washington, January 12, 1910.”

Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson 

There is no greater expense for many universities that were founded in the mid to late 1800s than the following: Deferred Maintenance Costs for both living and learning facilities. And the founding principal and president of Tuskegee (Institute) University was at the forefront of understanding how to create a diverse portfolio of fundraising that included, among other things, restricted gifts for the express purpose of going to the “Repair Fund.” Note, the modern-day equivalent of the “Repair Fund” is akin to seeking both small and major “restricted” gifts for the renovation, restoration and repair of “bricks and mortar”. (These are living facilities where students reside and learning facilities where professors teach and research. Many institutions have now combined such functions where students and professors can simultaneously “live and learn.”) “Restricted” gifts designated for the renovation, restoration or repair of living and learning facilities are often used to serve “unrestricted” purposes. For when an institution can secure such gifts then monies contained within its own annual deferred maintenance budget can be used to renovate, restore and repair additional living and learning facilities or be used for other items in support of teaching, learning or research. More importantly, when an institution possesses a deferred maintenance plan, schedule or a campus master plan that designates monies for renovation, restoration and repair projects over a certain period, a single major “restricted” gift might allow the institution to improve a residential facility or classroom facility years before what the deferred maintenance schedule and plan originally projected. While this is generally understood in a knowledge-based, data-informed and outcomes-oriented 21st century higher education enterprise, here we find that Booker T. Washington was doing this not only in 1910, but as early as 1881 when he arrived in Tuskegee, Alabama only to discover that he would be spending his earliest years teaching in a hen house. (34 years later, he took this hen house and-with the help of employees like Robert R. Taylor and Emmett J. Scott and faculty members like George Washington Carver-transformed it into the single most immaculate campus in all of higher education both nationally and globally. At the time of this writing Tuskegee University is one of 15 largest campuses in America in terms of acreage owned.) And this is why we celebrate Booker T. Washington in this the centennial year (1915-2015) since his passing. For this was a man of “substance” whose writings, correspondence and (most importantly) deeds demonstrate “integrity” and “knowledge,” which are the two single greatest 9-letter words. This is also probably why one of Mr. Washington’s favorite sayings was as follows: “Let Examples Answer.”

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