Chapman’s Donation Policy: How money finds its way to campus

“Generally speaking our Executive Vice President and I only get involved for large gifts. So smaller amounts can trickle in without our direct involvement,” said President Daniele Struppa. Photo illustration by Claire Treu.

While tuition fees make up most of the university’s annual income, the more secretive realm of donations has come into question since the emergence of the nationwide college admissions scandal, a provoking exposé in which Chapman was discovered to have a minor role.

In lieu of uproar surrounding the scandal and Chapman’s Faculty Senate resolution to establish a set of policies for accepting donations, Prowl took a closer look at the donation process at Chapman.

Gifts from donors made up 7.8% of Chapman’s revenues in 2017, according to an article in ChapBook Magazine. That percentage represented about $27 million in donations that year.

Donations are managed through University Advancement, a department that solicits money from possible donors. However, donations $50,000 and over must be approved by the Board of Trustees, according to Sheryl Bourgeois, Executive Vice President of University Advancement.

Most of our donations go to restricted purposes to fund a specific endeavor in a school, college or department (professorship, program, etc.) or to fund a specific building project,” such as the new Keck Center,  Bourgeois told Prowl via email. “At larger levels, donors are usually more interested in making a direct, more specific impact.”

Fundraising is one of many responsibilities held by the  university president. Ironically, during an email exchange with Prowl about donations, President Daniele Struppa said he was joining potential donors for lunch in San Francisco.

“At the lunch I mentioned,” Struppa wrote, “I spoke with a donor and asked for a gift to help underserved students. Much to my happiness the donor totally responded to my message and immediately agreed to the gift and to its designation.”

It is common for donors to be called on to help with specific university priorities, but sometimes donors have their own requests for allocation of donations. Especially at larger levels, donors usually want their donation to go toward a specific project or program, Bourgeois said.

“Unless there are problems with their ideas, we usually accommodate the donor wishes,” Struppa said.

While it is illegal to bribe a university official or falsify an SAT exam like we saw in the admissions scandal, donating to a university to better your child’s chances of being admitted is not.

Jared Kushner’s father, real estate mogul Charles Kushner, donated $2.5 million to Harvard University in 1998, which some say is what got Jared admitted.

While some may argue that the loophole is an abuse of power, Chair of the Faculty Governance Council Lynda Hall emphasized the overwhelming benefit that donors have on universities.

Is it wrong that we take $7 million to build a building and maybe, one student gets to come here, but thousands of students get to use the building?” Hall said.

Chapman is working with the Department of Justice to investigate the $325,000 gifted by the Key Worldwide Foundation, the fraudulent charity used as a front for bribe money in the nationwide scandal. The federal investigation has not resulted in donors wishing to rescind contributions to Chapman, according to President Daniele Struppa. Yet, the subject is clearly a touchy one for the university, as officials were swift to redirect or refuse comment to Prowl when asked about donation policies.

Prowl reached out to six donors for comment when Jamie Ceman, Vice President of Strategic Marketing and Communications emailed reporters. Donors had been advised not to respond because “it would be irresponsible for anyone to discuss any aspect of the investigation,” Ceman said.

“I understand you’re looking at donations and not the admissions issue, but out of an abundance of caution while we complete our internal investigation it’s better to not comment on either process right now,” Ceman said.

The fundraising department has also been advised not to comment until the investigation is complete, Ceman said. “The President has every intention of providing all the information he is able to after the investigation is complete.”

Conflict over donations and their influence came to a head in 2018 when the Charles Koch foundation donated $5 million to the university, which some students and faculty complained was used to promote a specific political agenda.

Donation guidelines was on the agenda for a March 15  Faculty Senate discussion. In the meeting, the Senate voted on and passed a resolution that Chapman should forgo donations with “inappropriate influences.”

“You can’t tell us who to hire and you can’t tell the people we hire what they’re going to research,” Hall said. “That statement is our attempt as faculty, and we don’t have a lot of power over this, to share our philosophy about it.”

Usually, the university initiates communication with donors to clarify their intentions, Struppa said.

“We have decided not to pursue specific opportunities we thought were not aligned with our values,” he added.

Smaller donations, however, are generally not restricted for a specific purpose.

If a donation comes in without a [specific] intent, the University tends to place [it] in its general fund, which goes to the most immediate needs,” Bourgeois said.

This “general fund” is “mostly targeted to scholarship money,” according to President Struppa.