Donations to the university are down 41 percent compared to the last fiscal year amid a chaotic period in the university’s history compounded by the departure of multiple high-level development officers and a rocky presidential transition.
As of Jan. 10, according to an internal office of development memo obtained by The Daily, the university has raised $48,905,322 during fiscal year 2019, which started July 1, 2018. At this point in fiscal year 2018, which started July 1, 2017, the university had raised $82,980,776.
Fiscal year 2019, which began the same day OU President James Gallogly took office, has been marked as one of the most tumultuous at OU in recent years. With a presidential transition that ended in a public rift between Gallogly and his predecessor David Boren and the terminations and retirement of several high level development officials, some may wonder about the trajectory of future donations to the university.
Now, with reports the university has opened an investigation into Boren related to sexual harassment claims, it does not appear the chaos will die down in the near future.
Boren was skilled at soliciting donations for the university, said Alan Velie, OU’s longest serving faculty member. Velie said the effect on the university could be catastrophic if perceptions don’t change.
“(Boren) was very widely loved throughout the state,” Velie said. “He was a revered figure in the state, and everybody who felt they loved him is going to be outraged.”
Velie said he regularly donated $1,000 a year to the university but chose to stop after the university announced in December that a plan to name a room after former OU Vice President of Development Tripp Hall would be rescinded, a decision that came after the university investigated misreporting of donor data on the part of the department of development. Velie won’t give to the university any longer.
“If they wanted to terminate Tripp Hall, he works at the pleasure of the president,” Velie said. “Why the president would go out of his way to stop an honor to a man who worked here for 25 years and was beloved by the university community is gratuitous cruelty. That’s why I’m not giving a penny until things change around here.”
The departures of Hall, Paul Massad and J.P. Audas rattled many potential donors to the university, Velie said. Together, the three had more than 70 combined years of experience of institutional knowledge and donor relationships that have now been lost.
Judith Wilde, an academic at George Mason University who studies higher education policy, said presidential transitions and times of turmoil at a university usually leave donations lagging.
“Anytime donors see mixed reactions to things that are going on at a university, whether it’s a new president or some other kind of event, they often step back for a brief time just to see what’s going to happen,” Wilde said. “So (OU) has a combination of those things right now.”
Wilde also said with longtime development officers gone, it will likely increase the time it takes for Gallogly to build trust with the university’s usual donors.
When asked in a December interview if he feared the public animosity between he and Boren would deter loyal donors from giving to the university, Gallogly said he hoped donors would want to give to the university as a whole, not just a person. Wilde said this could indicate it would take him longer to understand the importance of getting to know donors to the university.
“Donors aren’t really giving to an institution, they are giving to a person,” Wilde said. “They’re used to giving to one person, and until President Gallogly either has a chance to come in and get to know all the donors and even build his own donor relationships, there may be a lag. They have to know the person they want to give to.”
In a Feb. 7 interview, when asked about donations being down, Gallogly pointed to cost-saving measures he’s made, which include multiple reductions in the workforce that terminated roughly 70 employees, pursued programs to increase efficiency and consolidated certain executive positions. Gallogly has said all these efforts has saved the university $32 million.
“So when people ask, how are we doing on fundraising? I would say fantastic,” Gallogly said. “Look what we just saved.”
When sharing the development memo with The Daily, OU’s open records office also sent a statement saying there were multiple factors to consider when looking at the decrease in donations to the university, including presidential transitions.
“There are multiple contributing factors which impacted end-of-year giving. The sharp decline and volatility in the stock market during December played a major role as donors experienced a significant decline in the value of their securities portfolio,” the statement read. “Oftentimes, and in December especially, appreciated securities are an important source of donations to OU. Contributions to athletics were expected to be down in December due to changes in the tax law and are in line with expectations.”
Velie still looks at the current state of fundraising at OU with apprehension, as he believes the hole left by Boren and other development officers at the university will be difficult for the university to fill.
“You can’t replace the knowledge of the donor base,” Velie said. “I don’t know how you’re going to do that. There’s going to be a drop off — it’s inevitable.”