Alumni | Philanthropy

Donor Intent Rescued in CT

PHILANTHROPY   |  July 14, 2015

When Shelby Cullom Davis gave $750,000 to Connecticut’s Trinity College in 1976 to endow a chair to teach private enterprise and entrepreneurship, he specified that there would be “no exceptions whatsoever” in the use of the money. A few years later, the college approached Davis about changing allocation of the funds because of evolving views and conditions at the school. Davis repeated that “no other purpose” for the funds would be acceptable to him.

Fast forward to 2008, when the occupant of the Davis Chair, professor Gerald Gunderson, caught wind that the college was diverting some of the funds. Despite his repeated attempts to build an entrepreneurship program in line with the stated wishes of the donor and documented student interest, the college had instead steered much of the money into other projects. Gunderson, who knew Davis while he was alive, reported a violation of donor intent to the Connecticut attorney general. Then-attorney general and now-Senator Richard Blumenthal was sympathetic to ­Gunderson’s concerns.

Gunderson’s administration was not. “Trinity’s president summoned him to the school’s cavernous Gothic conference room, where he called the professor a ‘scoundrel’ and threatened not to reappoint him,” the Wall Street Journal reported. The ­American Council of Trustees and Alumni got involved, petitioning the board of the college to honor Davis’s intent, as this was “critical to maintaining the trust of current and future Trinity College donors.”

Subsequent investigations showed that Trinity had been diverting monies from the entrepreneurship fund for years. The college eventually returned $193,000 to the endowment, but the slugging between Gunderson, Davis’s descendants, and the school administration continued. With the attorney general’s office refusing to approve the school’s alternative spending proposals, and the prospect of litigation hanging over their heads, a new Trinity president agreed in late 2014 to honor Davis’s wishes.

The Shelby Cullom Davis Endowment Fund will now support two additional tenure-track faculty members.


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