U fund-raising initiative collects $62 million from faculty, staff

Lee Billings

The University honored 11,000 faculty and staff members Tuesday with ceremonies on all four campuses celebrating the $62 million raised through employee contributions since 1996.

The donations will be used to create student scholarships, form new faculty positions, fund research and renovate buildings, among other initiatives.

The festivities began at noon in Minneapolis and St. Paul with tree plantings, free food, a small parade and presentations by University President Robert Bruininks and Provost Christine Maziar.

The Crookston, Duluth and Morris campuses participated with musical performances and refreshments.

With temperatures in the 60s and lots of sun, University ceremony attendees gathered for the afternoon on Northrop Mall.

“We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day,” said Judy Kirk, the executive vice president of the University of Minnesota Foundation. The foundation is leading Campaign Minnesota, a seven-year fund-raising initiative ending June 30.

“In the midst of so much depressing news at the University these days, particularly for faculty and staff, it was nice for them to be recognized and thanked,” said Martha Douglas, the foundation’s communications director.

Facing a $258 million budget shortfall over the next two years, the University might resort to lay-offs, salary freezes and benefits cuts for its employees to make ends meet.

The level of faculty and staff contributions is virtually unprecedented, University officials said. Among current University employees, 7,700 – approximately 30 percent – have donated during the campaign, with more than half of the $62 million going toward student scholarships and fellowships.

While the donations will aid the University, administrators’ hands are largely tied when it comes to distributing the money. About 98 percent of the donations are designated for specific purposes by the donors.

Additionally, much of the money is in pledges and bequests that will take years to deliver.

Despite such restraints, University officials consider the campaign a success. It reached its $1.3 billion goal and is on track to surpass $1.6 billion in donations by the end of June.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Stephanie Dilworth, a University auditor who worked with the Faculty-Staff Campaign Committee to plan the funding drive. “It’s $20 million more than what we’d hoped for.”

Douglas said there are practical reasons for the surge in employee support, such as payroll-deduction options for donations.

“Another thing that’s been really attractive is Ö the 21st Century Graduate Endowment Fund that matches all new gifts of endowed fellowships,” Douglas said. “So there’ve been a number of faculty members who have given gifts for a new fellowship knowing it would be matched and the value would be doubled.”

David Hollister, an adjunct professor in the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, said he and his wife contributed $100,000 to create a School of Social Work fellowship. He said the fund matching aided his decision.

“It was very attractive to in effect double the impact of my contribution,” he said.

University fund-raisers emphasized the campaign is not over yet, and any donation is appreciated.

“We count every single one,” Douglas said. “Whether you gave $5 or five million, it’s counted.”