Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Opinion

September 13, 2013

Withdrawn

Loss of $250 million gift will not harm Centre’s programs

ASHLAND — As it turns out, skeptics who thought the $250-million gift to Centre College announced in late July sounded too good to be true may have been right. The all-stock gift — which would have been one of the largest single gifts ever received by a U.S. college — has been withdrawn, Centre officials announced Monday.

But that does not mean the donor — the A. Eugene Brockman Charitable Trust — was having second thoughts about the wisdom of the gift or had suddenly become angry with the small liberal arts college in Danville. Just the opposite, in fact. The Brockman trust has a long history of generous donations to Centre and that is expected to continue. It just won’t be $250 million. At least not yet.

The gift was always contingent on what college officials called a “significant capital market event” and when that did not pan out, the charitable trust had no choice but to withdraw the gift.

As announced in July, the donation would have created a Centre College scholarship program beginning next year. Annually, 40 students majoring in the natural and computational sciences and economics would have received the full-ride scholarships, with a total of 160 students getting the assistance once fully implemented.

“We’re not happy, in any shape or form, with this outcome,” Centre College President John Roush said of the gift’s withdrawal. “This would have helped us do better what we’re already doing.”

While the gift certainly would have helped Centre attract more gifted students, not receiving it does not really change the status quo at Centre. The college’s alumni and its numerous supporters will continue to give to the schools, which has among the nation’s highest percentages of alumni who continue to support the school with their gifts.

A. Eugene Brockman formed the charitable trust in 1981, a few years before his death. His son, Robert T. “Bob” Brockman, attended Centre for a couple of years before getting his degree elsewhere and is a former chairman of Centre’s board of trustees. Bob Brockman, who lives in Houston, left the Kentucky school because he wanted a degree in business administration, which isn’t offered as a major at Centre.

The recapitalization referred to by the school was a proposed refinancing deal considered by an auto dealer services company that Bob Brockman heads, a company spokesman said Monday.

Brockman is chairman and CEO of Dayton, Ohio-based Reynolds and Reynolds Co., which develops software and services for automotive dealerships. He also is the founder of Universal Computer Systems, which acquired Reynolds for $2.5 billion in 2006

Vista Equity Partners announced in July that the private equity firm, senior Reynolds management and the charitable trust planned to roll over $900 million in shares as part of an effort to secure $3.4 billion in loans to pay off debt and recoup investors’ costs of the Reynolds acquisition. The company decided last week not to go through with the proposed refinancing deal, said Reynolds spokesman Tom Schwartz.

When announced, the donation had ranked among the 20 biggest gifts ever to a U.S. college or university, according to a list maintained by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Richard Trollinger, Centre’s vice president for college relations, said the Brockman trust had made a number of generous gifts over the years to help transform the campus and improve its facilities. “Our collaboration with the Brockman Trust has made us better in many ways and will continue to do so,” he said.

A $19.5 million gift from the Brockman Trust went for construction of a dorm that opened a year ago at Centre.

The loss of the $250 million gift is certainly a major disappointment that will impact future programs at Centre, but since none of the money was actually received, the impact on current life and programs at Centre should be minimal. It’s hard to miss what you never really had.

 

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