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The Campaign for the University of Georgia

At the World Congress Center in mid-April, crowds of UGA supporters enjoyed jazz combos and delectible ­edibles at the public phase kickoff of the University’s seven-year, $500 million Archway to Excellence campaign, which signals a new beginning for UGA philanthropy. With nearly a decade having passed since Bernie Ramsey's $44.7 million series of gifts, the question is... who is the next Bernie Ramsey?

Kent Hannon



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From the balcony of his Park Avenue apartment, Bernie Ramsey had a clear view in both directions—east to the East River and west to the Hudson. But for this retired financier, who came to New York City as a young man and rose to a position of considerable influence as chairman of Merrill Lynch’s executive committee, the South would always be home.

Ramsey (BSC ’37) grew up in Macon and began his ­career selling stocks door to door in Charlotte, N.C. But as he told his old college friend Bill Hartman (BSC ’37), “The ­University of Georgia made me what I am. It gave me the confidence to be successful in the business world.”

Distance and time had separated Ramsey from his alma mater until Hartman invited him to a Dogs game in 1980. As they walked the campus—Hartman, the former All-American football player, and Ramsey, the ­former cadet colonel of UGA’s Army ROTC brigade—­the years melted away.

“Bill Hartman played a key role in reuniting Bernie Ramsey with his alma mater,” says former UGA president Charles Knapp, “but it was Bernie’s life cycle that eventually led to him making a lifetime gift to the University. He had gotten older, his wife Eugenia had died, he had no ­children—and he loved the University of Georgia.”

In 1989, UGA launched the $150 million Third ­Century Campaign, and Ramsey was expected to be a principal contributor. In a series of lunches and dinners at Ramsey’s ­favorite restaurant in New York, discussions centered on the specific area of the University that would tie him to his gift.

“It wasn’t a foregone conclusion that UGA would get the bulk of Bernie’s estate,” says Knapp. “He had a number of causes that he had supported over the years.”

Over a period of months, it became clear that supporting students was foremost in Ramsey’s mind. The experience that helped crystallize things for Ramsey took place in Athens at a dinner at the Botanical Garden.

“We were sitting with a group of UGA’s best and brightest students,” says Knapp, “and as these Foundation Fellows told him about their travels abroad and their plans for the future you could just see Bernie light up. He saw himself—50 years younger—reflected in the students’ faces.”

In the summer of 1993, Ramsey made it official. He would make an initial gift of roughly $10 million in cash, with the majority of the money being used to establish a premier scholarship program patterned after the vaunted Morehead Scholars program at UNC-Chapel Hill and the Jefferson Scholars at UVA. When Ramsey died in 1996, he left the bulk of his estate to UGA. Counting the cash gift, the total value of his contributions was $44,785,652 with the Terry College of Business, ­Performing and Visual Arts Center, a pair of Georgia Research Alliance professorships, athletics, and the library benefiting from his generosity.

“Before Mr. Ramsey, our Foundation Fellows program had no more than 40 students, and they weren’t given the level of support they deserved,” says former FF director Jere ­Morehead, who is now vice provost for academic ­affairs. “Thanks to Mr. Ramsey’s gifts, we now have more than ­triple that number of students in the program—roughly 135 students in a given year—counting the Foundation Fellows and the Ramsey Scholars. As for level of support, each ­Foundation Fellow has a $15,000 travel stipend, which ­enables them to study and experience life all over the world.”

Nearly a decade has passed since Bernie Ramsey ushered in a new era of philanthropy at the University of Georgia, and UGA is currently in the midst of another capital campaign. On April 14, at a gala celebration at the World Congress Center in Atlanta (see p. 14), the University announced that it has entered the public phase of a seven-year, $500 million capital campaign.

“Five hundred million is an ambitious goal,” says UGA president Michael F. Adams of the Archway to Excellence campaign. “The question we have to answer, for both this ­capital campaign and ones that will follow, is . . . who is the next Bernie Ramsey?”

Bernie Ramsey’s $10 million gift remains the largest cash gift in UGA history, and it enabled the University to exceed its $150 million goal and close the books on the Third ­Century Campaign a year early. The fact that UGA is more than halfway to a $500 million goal less than 10 years later speaks volumes about the financial challenges that America’s public universities face today. Once able to count on the state legislature to underwrite a large chunk of their annual budget, public universities have seen state support sink as low as 8 percent at the University of Virginia.

“‘State-funded’ is no longer the operative term,” says UGA’s senior vice president for external affairs Steve ­Wrigley. “The University of Georgia is now a ‘state-assisted’ ­institution with the legislature currently contributing only 31 percent of our $1.24 billion annual budget. We have to raise the rest ourselves from private sources.”

When UGA looks at aspirational institutions, UVA and UNC-Chapel Hill are typically at or near the top of the list. Thus, it made perfect sense for University officials to ask Robert Sweeney to attend a recent campaign leadership day, where he addressed UGA development staffers charged with raising the balance of the $500 million.

“It’s not about the campaign goal or the money,” said Sweeney, who headed fundraising efforts at UNC-Chapel Hill until UVA hired him away. “It’s about this place and the importance of 220 years of service to the State of Georgia.”

Asking Sweeney to talk about higher-ed fundraising is like asking Bill Gates to talk about computer software. His UVA staff members were still congratulating themselves on a $1.43 billion campaign in 2000 when Sweeney got a startling note from his boss, UVA president John ­Casteen, whose one-sentence e-mail read: “What would it take to ratchet up development?” UVA’s $1.43 billion campaign had been the largest ­public institution fund drive in history [Cal-Berkeley raised $1.4 billion], but that figure pales in comparison to the $3 billion campaign Sweeney is orchestrating now.

“While you are raising [what for you is] an unprecedented amount,” Sweeney told the UGA development staff, “UCLA has just finished a $2.6 billion campaign and Harvard has announced, at least privately, a $6 billion campaign—and they have the capacity to raise $10 billion.”

If those numbers sound dizzying, consider this. When The Chronicle of Higher Education examined the history of philanthropic giving to higher education in this country in 2004, the mega list began with a minimum gift of $50 million—meaning Mr. Ramsey’s $44.7 million didn’t even qualify.

From 1967-2004, individuals and foundations bestowed 135 higher education gifts that matched or exceeded that $50-million figure—with 53 of those gifts worth a jaw-­dropping $100 million or more. Topping the list was a $1 billion gift from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to establish a Rhodes Scholar-type program for American students at Cambridge University in England. (UGA ­student Semil Choski was a member of the inaugural Gates ­Cambridge Scholar class in 2001, and the 2002 class ­included two more UGA students—William Hollingsworth and Yi Lee—and alum Bonnie Ling.)

The largest gift to a private U.S. institution during that 37-year period was a $600 million bequest to Cal Tech from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Only six of the top 20 recipients were public institutions or systems, but three of those were Southeastern Conference schools. Arkansas, which just elevated the goal of its current capital campaign to $1 billion, was No. 1 on the publics list, thanks to a $300 million gift from Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton’s foundation. Vanderbilt (No. 14 overall) ­received $178 million in stock from the ­Ingram Charitable Fund, and LSU (No. 19) received $125 million in stock and gas-and-oil royalties from donor Claude Pennington.

Georgia institutions were well represented among the top 30. Emory ranked No. 7 with a gift of $295 million in stock from three charitable foundations. LaGrange College and Mercer University shared the No. 22 position with a combined gift of $123 million in real estate from Remer and Emily Fisher Crum. Emory appears again at No. 28, thanks to $105 million in stock from Robert W. Woodruff.

Another SEC school, the University of Mississippi, ­appears on the list twice, with its school of education getting $100 million in stock from James and Sarah Barksdale and the university as a whole receiving a $60 million trust from the Joseph Bancroft charitable fund.

Size was no obstacle. Tiny Berry College in Rome, Ga. (enrollment: 1,900) received a charitable trust worth $55 million from J. Bulow Campbell. And two schools that didn’t exist—Ave Maria University ($200 million/2002) and the Frank Olin College of Engineering ($200 million/1997)—got mammoth starter gifts to get them off the ground.

All but 11 of the 135 gifts on The Chronicle list have been made since 1990, and the ones that really shook the ­foundation of philanthropic giving came from TV Guide founder Walter Annenberg. In 1993, Annenberg gave $120 million to the University of Pennsylvania and another $120 million to the University of Southern California. ­Adding to the gifts’ value was the fact that they were made in cash—and with no restrictions as to how the money should be used.

“The size of your endowment is as important to the lifeblood of a university as the amount of principal is to an investor earning interest in a savings account,” says Steve Wrigley. “The goal of every university, public or private, is to boost its endowment. Earning interest on that money is the only way you can build for the future.”

And in that regard, UGA lags far behind other top ­public institutions (see graphic on p. 20 ). With an endowment of $475.6 million, UGA has roughly one-sixth the financial ­reserves that UVA enjoys ($2.8 billion). Georgia Tech ($815 million) is considerably stronger, and the difference is particularly glaring when you compare endowment-per-student statistics: Georgia Tech ($51,310) vs. UGA ($14,009).

“There is a direct correlation between academic quality and the size of your endowment. The best public universities have the largest endowments,” says Wrigley, who notes that Archway to Excellence is only the third fundraising campaign at UGA since the 1920s. “We arrived relatively late on the private fundraising scene, and a number of converging factors have led us to this campaign. Student quality has risen dramatically in recent years, and, thus, student and faculty expectations for this flagship institution are higher than ever before.”

Unfortunately, as the need for resources soars higher and higher each year, state funding for UGA—which has been a fixture among the top 20 public institutions in U.S. News & World Report rankings—has decreased dramatically. As ­recently as 1999, 43 percent of UGA’s budget came from the state, compared with 31 percent today.

“That trend should continue,” says Wrigley, “owing to the fiscal realities the state faces in this economic climate.”

Tuition and fees provide only 12 percent of UGA’s budget, which prompted President Adams to say in his most recent State of the University address that UGA’s status as one of the best educational bargains in the country does not bode well for the University’s long-term financial health.

“There is no such thing as cheap excellence,” says ­Adams. “The facilities and opportunities we desire for our faculty come with a price tag. Scholarships for top undergrads, fellowships for top grad ­students, stipends for study abroad and international ­research, improvements in ­library and computer resources, the best classrooms and laboratories, endowed faculty ­positions—those all come with a price tag.”

And yet, for the 2004-05 academic year, UGA’s in-state tuition and fees ($4,272) were less than half what students pay at Penn State ($10,856) and far lower than at Michigan ($8,202), Ohio State ($7,542), and UVA ($6,790).

When UGA selects a freshman class each year, it competes against the best public and private institutions in the country; in increasing numbers, that competition includes the Ivy League. To convince a top student that UGA is the place where he or she will realize their true potential ­requires financial aid above and beyond the Hope Scholarship, which is limited to in-state tuition and fees. In addition, UGA must offer rigorous academics, top-notch faculty, state-of-the-art facilities, a great library, modern accommodations, and life-altering experiences both in and out of the classroom.

When state budget cuts coincide with increases in the size and quality of the student body, it puts an increased burden on private fundraising. But that 31 percent state investment figure should not be construed as lack of interest or support from members of the general assembly, many of whom have degrees from UGA. Since the early 1990s, the University has ­received more than $450 million in state support for the Hope Scholarship program and more than $300 million in facilities investment. But UGA officials say that kind of support is unlikely to keep pace with the University’s needs. ­Private fundraising has to pick up the slack.

“In truth,” says Wrigley, “we need a number of Bernie Ramseys to step forward if UGA is to continue to prosper.”

The University just set a record for annual fundraising with $77.8 million—more than double the $30 million figure that was typical in the early to mid-1990s. But $77.8 million represents a small percentage of the $1.24 billion budget.

“The nuts and bolts of Archway to Excellence is the money we need to raise,” says President Adams. “But the heart and soul of this campaign is the effect this place has on people’s lives. We believe the University of Georgia can be not only one of America’s best public universities—which by many measures it already is—but one of America’s best, most sought-after universities, either public or private.

“In every measure—student quality, research productivity, commitment to public service—UGA is creeping up the charts. For those at the top, it must be a bit like the warning you see when you look out your car window: ‘The university in your mirror is closer than it appears.’ Having said that, I want to emphasize that how close we get to UNC, UVA, and the rest will largely be determined by how successful we are with the Archway to Excellence campaign.”



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CAMPAIGN KICKOFF EVENT PHOTO GALLERY
Click on image to enlarge

photo by Peter Frey

photo by Dot Paul

photo by Paul Efland

photo by Paul Efland

photo by Dot Paul

photo by Dot Paul

photo by Paul Efland

photo by Robert Newcomb

photo by Paul Efland