It was the fall of 2009 when the Reverend 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 thePresidents' 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.
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.
Participants in the pledge give their donations directly to charities of their choice, under the condition that at least half of the contributions will benefit international projects. The organizers of the pledge have not tracked the total dollar amount of the contributions and said no estimate could be provided.
Most of the participants lead or have led private colleges, where the median presidential compensation is $385,909, according to The Chronicle's most-recent analysis. A 5-percent contribution for such a president would be $19,295. Presidents of religiously affiliated institutions, however, often earn considerably less than the median.