Article Comment 

Foundations push back against PEER report


Jason Browne



After having their budgets slashed for the next three years by the state Legislature, Mississippi universities are a step closer to facing changes in private fundraising. 


The Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning at its Sept. 17 meeting approved a first reading of policy changes recommended by the Joint Legislative Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review committee, that would mandate greater transparency on behalf of private foundations raising funds for state schools. 


The presidents or chairmen of seven such affiliated foundations formally have opposed the changes, saying the recommended policies could discourage donors and bring the foundations under the control of the IHL. 


"It''s a tricky thing to deal with considering the foundations are private entities but are dealing with a public body," said Dr. Eddie Betcher, chairman for the Mississippi University for Women Foundation. 


Betcher, a 1988 graduate of MUW''s nursing school, says the proposed changes have been brewing since 2006, but are coming to a head. 


Nothing has been decided by the College Board with regard to the PEER recommendations, according to Leah Rupp Smith, director of communications for the IHL. 


"The (IHL) board has to come back and give final approval. There''s no way to know what''s going to be. Between now and whenever the board approves it, anything can be changed," said Rupp Smith. 


The issue likely will not be on the agenda when the IHL board convenes again Oct. 14-15 at Alcorn State University, she said. 


No IHL board members were available to comment on the PEER recommendations; all inquiries were directed to Rupp Smith. 


The most pressing issue addressed in the foundations'' letter is their concern they''ll lose autonomy. 


"Transparency is not really the issue raised in the foundations'' letter. It had to do with independence. Some of the things (IHL) is considering would limit independence," said Betcher. 


The foundations'' letter states the concern that "private affiliates may be re-characterized as public bodies under one or more State laws or regulatory schemes." 


"(IHL) is asking foundations to report directly to them, not to the university. They place themselves in a position to ask foundations for certain things on behalf of the university, rather than the university asking," said Betcher. 


The foundations are concerned such a system would prompt the IHL to make decisions for all state universities rather than allowing each foundation to tailor its efforts to its particular university. 


"The board may decide what''s best for all eight (state) universities, instead of what''s best for one. If the IHL decided it''s in the best interest for the majority of universities to have funds for a particular project, that project may only be good for four out of eight universities," said Betcher. 


The trend toward state control may stem from a recent incident at the University of Georgia in which a football coach allegedly received additional salary supplements from a private foundation. 


In August, PEER released findings of an investigation specifically into MUW''s foundation, which didn''t find any wrongdoing but recommended changes that would impact all university foundations in the state. The request for a PEER investigation was brought by MUW alumnae, who complained they were not getting enough information about the MUW Foundation''s expenditures. 


Another of the foundations'' concerns centers on PEER''s recommendation for greater transparency in the affiliated entities'' record keeping. 


Betcher says PEER has recommended the foundations provide not only the identities of donors, but the methods used in securing donations. 


"(The recommendations) may effect the way the information we maintain on donors and may affect our ability to approach and effectively solicit donations. Someone may make a gift but doesn''t feel compelled to have their name attached. The IHL may make those (donations) public record," said Betcher. 


A third major concern voiced on behalf of the foundations addresses the politics behind the PEER recommendations. 


"The foundations fear the tools the proposed policy provides for direct IHL oversight would be used by politically motivated state officers or agencies to intrude upon and meddle in the affairs of affiliated foundations," read the foundations'' letter to the IHL. 


Betcher expects the IHL board to make a policy decision on the PEER recommendations by the end of the year.




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Reader Comments

Article Comment Betcha Betcher Won''t Comment on THIS commented at 10/1/2009 1:35:00 PM:

Since Dr. Betcher is available to comment on the impact of new policies designed to protect donors and limit abuse by university foundations - which by the way is not an evil scheme designed to force revealing the names of individual anonymous donors - perhaps he could take a few moments to answer another pressing question: Wasn't the PEER Report less interested in donor names and more interested in the $1.4 MILLION DOLLARS that the MUW Foundation OVERSPENT?

What say you, Dr. Betcher?


Article Comment RUKiddingMe?! commented at 10/2/2009 12:11:00 PM:

1.4 MILLION DOLLARS OVERSPENT?! If that information is in the PEER Report (which I think I will now go read), then why didn't the author of this article include that information? If this Foundation is truly independent of the MUW administration, then someone certainly needs to be watching whoever IS running this group! Even if this was found to not be illegal, it is obviously poor management at a time when this university needs every dollar it can get, and needs to be able to have the confidence of all its alumni.


Article Comment 125 commented at 10/13/2009:

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