Tight-lips evoke raised eyebrows: What’s up with Gannett Foundation’s $40K gift to WCU?

It might not be unusual, but officials have been mum on details about Gannett Foundation’s two $20,000 gifts to Western Carolina University, according to a post by Jim Hopkins on his Gannett Blog.

“Gannett CEO Craig Dubow recommended the company’s charitable arm give the money in 2007 and 2006 to Western Carolina University for endowed scholarships, public documents show,” writes Hopkins. But WCU officials won’t tell the inquiring Hopkins where the money went. “Clifton Metcalf, the university’s vice chancellor for advancement and external affairs,” Hopkins reports, said, “WCU offers student scholarships named for Dubow and his wife Denise. In a telephone interview, however, he refused to say whether the foundation money went to the fund honoring the Dubows, citing university policy on privacy of financial records.”

Is anything amiss? It’s suspicious, suggests Hopkins in a Dec. 13 post. Hopkins’ blog has provided more news of late — and misinformation, according to his critics — about Gannett’s layoffs and internal workings than any other media outlet in the world.

Hopkins’ Internet call for answers is spreading, and has been picked up by WNC Web site the Southern Highland Reader. Sooner or later, someone is likely to provide some answers to his questions.

One anonymous comment in response to Hopkins, posted “12/13/2008 10:45 AM,” mused: “More often than not, these … scholarships go to kids whose parents are corporate execs or local directors. I have seen that pattern all too often. And think about it, the ones with the money get the money!!!” Such surmissals are regularly found on blog comments, and only time and the Internet’s almost unlimited, resonating connectivity function to separate fact from fiction. Stay tuned.

— Jeff Fobes

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About Jeff Fobes
As a long-time proponent of media for social change, my early activities included coordinating the creation of a small community FM radio station to serve a poor section of St. Louis, Mo. In the 1980s I served as the editor of the "futurist" newsletter of the U.S. Association for the Club of Rome, a professional/academic group with a global focus and a mandate to act locally. During that time, I was impressed by a journalism experiment in Mississippi, in which a newspaper reporter spent a year in a small town covering how global activities impacted local events (e.g., literacy programs in Asia drove up the price of pulpwood; soybean demand in China impacted local soybean prices). Taking a cue from the Mississippi journalism experiment, I offered to help the local Green Party in western North Carolina start its own newspaper, which published under the name Green Line. Eventually the local party turned Green Line over to me, giving Asheville-area readers an independent, locally focused news source that was driven by global concerns. Over the years the monthly grew, until it morphed into the weekly Mountain Xpress in 1994. I've been its publisher since the beginning. Mountain Xpress' mission is to promote grassroots democracy (of any political persuasion) by serving the area's most active, thoughtful readers. Consider Xpress as an experiment to see if such a media operation can promote a healthy, democratic and wise community. In addition to print, today's rapidly evolving Web technosphere offers a grand opportunity to see how an interactive global information network impacts a local community when the network includes a locally focused media outlet whose aim is promote thoughtful citizen activism.

5 thoughts on “Tight-lips evoke raised eyebrows: What’s up with Gannett Foundation’s $40K gift to WCU?

  1. AvlResident

    Aren’t university budgets public documents?

    SECTION 7 ALL ACCOUNTING TRANSACTIONS FOR THE FOUNDATION are conducted by University business offices and are recorded in the official financial records of Western Carolina University . Expenditures require approval of a designated University officer. The receipt and disbursement of Foundation funds are subjected to an annual internal control review performed by the University’s Internal Auditor. The internal control structure is also monitored by the Office of The State Auditor. Financial records of The Foundation are uniquely numbered in the University’s Financial Records System, thus providing separate accounting by activity/scholarship, as well as the capability for generating summary reports covering the entire Foundation. An annual audit and tax return are prepared by an external, independent auditor. The audit reflects a comprehensive review of the business transactions of The Foundation and includes a review of internal controls.

    SECTION 8 AUDITED FINANCIAL STATEMENT audited financial statements are provided to the Board of Directors approximately four months after the fiscal year-end. Because the University realizes a material financial benefit from its affiliated Foundation, The Foundation’s assets, liabilities fund balance, and results of operations are blended with those of the University in the Western Carolina University financial statements.

  2. Mij

    The Bardo era at WCU has not been one of transparency and that’s perfectly understandable when Bardo’s record is examined closely. He began his tenure by proclaiming “build it and they will come” and build he has. Bardo has been a master at attracting money and attention but the actual effectiveness both in how the university serves its mission and in terms of costs to the taxpayers of North Carolina is open to question.
    WCU, as originally conceived by Dr. Madison, was intended to be the educational field leveler for the far western mountain counties. For many years WCU focused on programs and curricula that benefited mountain students and more important mountain communities.
    Bardo, on the other hand, has jiggered university policy so that now WCU recruits primarily from the Greensboro and Charlotte areas. And while Dr. Bardo is always good for a sound bite on his commitment to community it’s interesting to note that his academic and professional focus has been spent not so much describing but promoting a kind of Regionalism and Reginalization that threatens to supplant, displace and overrun local communities.
    A close look a Bardo’s record will show an obsession for chasing money. First, WCU was going to be the next great center of Biotech, then engineering , then something else. While Bardo has attracted some big grants to the university he has also encumbered the taxpayers and the university system with considerable financial burdens. Much of Bardo’s “Build it” philosophy is less substance and more Potemkin Village.
    The Fine Arts Center is a perfect example. This is a $30 million structure built with taxpayer money. The original budgets did not include funding for water and sewer or furnishing for the facility and so a bit of bait and switch was done to get even more money. It’s a nice facility but one has to wonder, is it appropriately located? Given that the mission of UNCA is somewhat more closely aligned with the purpose and intent of the facility and given that a facility of that size and cost ought to be in active use probably 250 nights a year one might wonder just what the taxpayers bought.
    At this point the Bardo tenure ought to be subject to a good deal of scrutiny and a very close audit. Several years ago the attendance figures at the grandiose “Jazzfest” were massaged to make the event look even less pathetic than it was. Accounting for the Fine Arts center and other projects has been creatively managed to perhaps makes the costs less startling.
    One need look no further than how WCU manipulates the local press. Many local news outlets (not the Xpress) print stories provided by WCU’s pr department without attribution. We’re not talking about event notices or simple announcements, no, these are news stories – witness the front page article in the Sylva Herald several weeks ago regarding the grant from BB&T;for the teaching of ethics in capitalism. For years the AC-T accepted stories under the byline of Bill Studenc on WCU. What they didn’t note was that Mr. Studenc is the chief public relations officer of WCU.
    State statute may mandate transparency and accountability as the previous comment suggested but that without a questioning press and public the light that needs to shine into the dark corners of the Bardo regime probably won’t come.

  3. Margaret Williams

    Has there been an increase in corporate funding in recent years? Has there been an increase lately? University budgets have been squeezed lately, but even before the recession, there seems to have been consistent efforts to procure funds from all sources. Makes me wonder if we’re just not funding them well enough in the first place. And then, there are also reports that college is becoming less and less affordable for the middle class and the poor.

  4. Jeff Fobes

    Here’s Hopkins’ follow-up post from Dec. 15:
    http://gannettblog.blogspot.com/2008/12/nc-geography-craig-and-denise-dubow.html

    Here’s part of Hopkins’ comments:
    “The Gannett Foundation gave only $42,250 in college scholarships to children of the company’s 46,000 employees in 2007, public documents show — even as the foundation raised to $40,000 the total donated for endowed scholarships at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C.

    “Well, guess what: Citizen-Times employees from Buncombe can’t get a dime of that $40,000 — if it wound up in the Craig and Denise Dubow scholarship fund, listed here. Why? In establishing their fund, the Dubows said students from only three counties — Jackson, Macon and Transylvania — are eligible.”

  5. Jeff Fobes

    More from Jim Hopkins, in this Dec. 19 post:
    http://gannettblog.blogspot.com/2008/12/nc-school-concedes-gannett-foundation.html

    “N.C. university concedes Gannett Foundation gave ‘support’ to scholarship fund honoring Dubow, wife”

    The post reads:
    “Under pressure, Western Carolina University has now acknowledged that the Gannett Foundation quietly helped CEO Craig Dubow and his wife, Denise, establish a scholarship in their name — with no credit to Gannett, and off-limits to most employees’ children.

    “The university, in Cullowhee, N.C., disclosed the foundation’s role in the Craig A. and Denise W. Dubow Endowed Scholarship Fund yesterday, only after I filed an open-records request last week for any public documents that could explain the whereabouts of $40,000 Dubow funneled to WCU in 2007 and 2006.

    The gifts were authorized under a benefit available only to Dubow … and a handful of other highly-paid current and former executives, several of whom have used foundation money to fund scholarships in their names, too. Dubow, 54, was paid $7.5 million in cash and stock last year. Much of that stock is now worthless; shares have plunged 79% from a year ago.

    “There’s nothing illegal here. But Dubow’s actions, combined with the foundation’s refusal to fully disclose them, show how brazenly Gannett pampers the top brass — even as it slashed thousands of jobs, froze the pension plan, and imposed other harsh steps to restore prosperity. Only yesterday, Dubow warned: “Next year will continue to be difficult.”

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