March 19, 2009
JACKSON -- Mississippi University for Women''s ability to get private-sector contributions could be restricted if state lawmakers enact a House-passed ban against the school sharing office space and funds with the MUW Foundation.
"The academic achievement of our students is always our primary goal, and I would not want the language in the house bill to jeopardize that objective," MUW President Claudia Limbert said in a statement she issued Wednesday.
The foundation is MUW''s fund-raising arm.
"The MUW Foundation has been a key partner in the university''s success for many years and remains an important component of our success today," Limbert said.
However, the state House of Representatives passed a budget bill last week that includes a clause saying MUW can''t receive state money if it spends "any public funds under its control to provide office space, utilities, salaries, fringe benefits or other material support" for the MUW Foundation.
Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, said this was tucked into the bill because of legislators'' ire at the MUW Foundation declining to provide them details about its finances.
"It was brought about because the W has refused to provide certain information on the foundation," Chism said.
The MUW Foundation is a university-affiliated group that raises private funds to supplement the money MUW gets from the state Legislature, student tuition and other sources of revenues. It''s privately incorporated and governed by a board of alumni and other university supporters.
The foundation accepts donations on behalf of the university to be spent under Limbert''s direction.
The restriction against MUW and its foundation is in a funding bill for the general support of Mississippi''s eight universities. The Senate declined to agree with the House''s version of Senate Bill 3221, sending it to a committee of legislative negotiators.
MUW Vice President Nora Miller said the House-passed restriction could force the foundation''s office off campus and ban university Vice President Gary Bouse from also serving as MUW Foundation president. The MUW Foundation office is housed in the university''s Welty administration building.
"Having (the MUW Foundation restriction) like that would be inconvenient," said Miller, who manages the university''s finances.
Bouse -- who oversees the university''s fundraising and public relations -- spends much of his time working for the private foundation, Miller said.
Limbert and alumni have been embroiled in a long-running feud largely linked to questions about how the MUW Foundation handles its money. Alums have complained they''re not getting enough information about the foundation''s expenditures.
Stressing that the MUW Foundation is private, Bouse has declined to make public certain information about its finances but has provided public reports.
"Other, more detailed information, is held confidentially to ensure, among other things, that personal information of donors will be held in the strictest confidence," he said last year.
"They hold that pretty close," Miller said of the foundation''s private information.
She noted other universities have similar arrangements with their foundations like MUW. However, the House bill only restricts MUW''s financial affiliation with its foundation.
Chism said the House picked on MUW because it wasn''t forthcoming with lawmakers'' request for information about the foundation.
"They''re just making more enemies," he said of MUW officials.
The Legislature''s Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee has requested information, but it''s been difficult clarifying and gathering what it wants, said MUW Foundation Chairman Eddie Betcher.
"We are disappointed and shocked that PEER took the extraordinary measure of amending a pending appropriations bill in the Mississippi Legislature to prohibit MUW from providing any future material support, such as office space, utilities, etc. to the Foundation," Betcher said in a statement he issued today.
"This ''remedy'' is one of several tactics PEER has exercised to politically influence its access to documents. While the Foundation considers this a "fishing expedition" instigated by disgruntled alumnae who have offered no proof of wrongdoing, we have already supplied PEER relevant information."