A small Kentucky liberal arts college lost out on one of the largest gifts in U.S. higher education history when the $250 million donation was withdrawn, school officials said Monday.
Centre College in Danville, Ky. — known for hosting vice presidential debates in 2000 and 2012 — said the all-stock gift from the A. Eugene Brockman Charitable Trust was linked to a “significant capital market event” that didn’t pan out. As a result, the gift was withdrawn and a proposed scholarship program at Centre is on hold.
“We’re not happy, in any shape or form, with this outcome,” Centre College President John Roush told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “This would have helped us do better what we’re already doing.”
College officials said they were notified by the trustee last week that the gift had been withdrawn. The call informing the school came the same day the business transaction was to close, Richard Trollinger, Centre’s vice president for college relations, said.
A statement from the school did not include comment from the trust or its trustee.
The donation would have created a Centre College scholarship program 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, the school had said.
Trollinger said in an interview that the gift was part of a multibillion dollar corporate recapitalization that had to take place in a limited amount of time.
“For reasons unknown to the college, the transaction is not going forward and as a result, the gift that had been committed to Centre has been withdrawn,” he said.
Asked his reaction when he got the word, Roush replied: “There’s a sense of disappointment and loss, no question about that.”
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 the school’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 The Reynolds and Reynolds Co., an auto dealer services firm based in Dayton, Ohio, that merged with Universal Computer Systems in 2006. The company develops software and services for automotive dealerships.
Reynolds and Reynolds decided last week not to go through with the proposed refinancing deal to pay off some of the private company’s debt, said company spokesman Tom Schwartz.
“As we looked more closely at the business, we simply chose not to borrow any additional funds,” he said, without disclosing any specifics.
Brockman declined to comment Monday through Schwartz.
“This is between the trust and the college,” the spokesman said. Schwartz said he was not aware of any conversations between Centre and Reynolds and Reynolds.
Centre is at the start of a fundraising campaign that now has lost its central gift, but Roush said the college will continue its pursuit of creating the type of scholarship program envisioned by the donation. “A task force of trustees, faculty, staff and students will be assembled to continue this conversation,” he said.
When announced in July, 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. It had been the second-largest such gift to a U.S. school since 2011, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, surpassed only by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s $350 million donation to Johns Hopkins University, announced earlier this year.
Trollinger said the Brockman Trust has been “a longtime friend and important partner.” He said the 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 prior $19.5 million gift from the Brockman Trust went for construction of a dorm that opened a year ago at Centre.
Bruce Schreiner reported from Winchester, Ky.