University Politics

Chancellor Kent Syverud’s role at Syracuse University has evolved into chief fundraiser

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Recently, Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud’s job has become more fundraising-focused.

When Chancellor Kent Syverud assumed his role in spring 2014, he was quickly thrown into an NCAA investigation and headed an effort to revamp the central New York economy.

Dealing with the former took up a substantial amount of time for Syverud, he said, calling the investigation “an important priority in my first year.” His work for the Central New York Regional Economic Development Council was also timely, with work that led to $500 million in state money secured for different initiatives in the region.

Syverud’s job has become more fundraising-focused as he works to turn Fast Forward Syracuse, his main three-pronged initiative for the university’s future, a reality. His role in advancement is key in SU’s ability to fund the sought after improvements to campus infrastructure and in the classroom.

“Mainly what I’m doing 18 hours a day is shepherding the university forward and a huge fraction of that is to raise money,” Syverud said.

The Board of Trustees is in the early stages of planning a major fundraising initiative, administrators said. The Board has yet to decide on the exact goal of the initiative or a set dollar amount it hopes to raise.

A major fundraising campaign is not a new concept for the university or key stakeholders.

Syverud’s hire for chief advancement officer, Matt Ter Molen, spearheaded Northwestern University’s recent $3.75 billion fundraising initiative to fund its strategic plan. The campaign has raised more than $3 billion, as of late September.

In 2012, then-Chancellor Nancy Cantor completed a $1 billion fundraising goal three months ahead of schedule. That campaign took two years between development and launch. Money raised through the Campaign for Syracuse University helped create faculty positions, scholarships and campus buildings.

Brian Sischo, the head of the campaign, said at the time of completion that another major campaign would be years away.

Now, four years and one chancellor later, major fundraising is again the key to implementing the changes the head of the university wants to see.

Some major donors were disappointed by the university and “a good number of those came back into the fold with Kent as chancellor,” said Jeff Kaplan, a former senior adviser to Syverud who retired last year.

The Chancellor Search Committee foresaw his advanced role as a fundraiser. Fundraising experience was something discussed within the committee, members said, and the question was posed to Syverud in an interview.

Syverud told the committee that he likes fundraising and is good at it, said Deborah Pellow, a member of the committee. Syverud is a former law school dean at Vanderbilt University and Washington University in St. Louis.

Pellow, a professor of anthropology in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, added that Syverud had taken the time to research members of the committee, which she assessed as a good trait for his fundraising skills.

“We were looking at fundraising. We were looking at plans for the university in terms of academics and in terms of preparing students for professional opportunities. Fundraising was just one of the aspects that came into play when we were considering Chancellor Syverud,” another member of the search committee said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they felt they weren’t authorized to speak on the subject.

The first couple years of a chancellor’s tenure are important to get acclimated with a university, rather than do significant fundraising, officials said.

“You need the first year or two at a school to really get to know the school and the internal operations. I know he was involved (in my year and a half) in fundraising, but it was not to the extent that it needs to be or should be after somebody has their orientation phase is complete,” said Kaplan, the former senior adviser.

The first few years are usually spent developing relationships with potential donors, said Linda Durant, the Senior Vice President for University Advancement at Widener University and a former chair with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

Into about the third year of a tenure, though, is where chancellors are expected to do more fundraising.

“When it comes down to it, donors want the president. That’s who they want in the room and that’s who they expect,” Durant said.

Members of the Board of Trustees and administrators close to Syverud praised his fundraising ability.

“He goes out of his way to make you feel welcomed and that’s not something a lot of presidents do, and it makes people want to continue giving to the university,” a member of the Board of Trustees said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because trustees are not authorized to speak to the press about university initiatives. “He was universally praised by the alumni board, they said they hadn’t been given legitimacy until he got here.”

A draft of the Campus Framework, the Fast Forward component most in need of outside funding, was released in June. Only a few of the major aspects of the plan have seen some form of implementation, with a new draft due out in January.

As the university is moving into the implementation stage for the Framework, however, it’s doing so with the issuance of bonds to fund infrastructure projects as the majority of its outstanding long-term debt as of June 30, 2015, a year before the initial Framework draft was released, according to an internal 2015 financial report.

There has been some progress in securing donations for the Framework. The university announced in early October a $1 million naming donation for the University Place promenade, the first completed major Framework project, to be called The Einhorn Family Walk. Other projects, including “The Arch” and the National Veterans Resource Complex, have received outside funding, but much is left to raise.

SU has plans to put more than $200 million in upgrades into the Carrier Dome, but final renovation decisions are dependent on the financing as well, Syverud said.

“The Framework is a vision for what we would do and would like to do to have the campus work well and consistent with our academic plan,” Syverud said. “How we get the funding is partly a function of coming up with a vision that inspires donors and others to fund it.”

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