Staff members of The New Hampshire had a sit down interview with UNH President Mark Huddleston last Tuesday morning on Oct. 4. We talked policy, personal accomplishments and his vision for the school going forward.
The Campaign 150, UNH’s current donation campaign, entered its public phase on Homecoming Weekend after five years and $225 million was raised during the private phase. This means that UNH will work more directly with its small and medium-sized donors, and will ultimately work on getting to its $275 million goal. As of now, 35,000 people are signed on for this campaign.
“People are tremendously supportive of their alma mater and know how important private fundraising is for its future. They are clearly signing on,” Huddleston said. “There’s been passionate support and belief in not only the importance of this campaign, but that it’ll succeed. We’re going to blow through the goal and everyone feels really optimistic.”
On the subject of Robert Morin and the allocation of unrestricted donations, we asked Huddleston about whether or not there should be a policy or procedure put in place for these types of donations. Out of all the funds that the campaign has raised so far, only four percent has been unrestricted, meaning it was up solely to the UNH Leadership to use as it as they saw fit. Controversy arose when $1 million was spent on a new video scoreboard for Wildcat Stadium, and many used social media to express concerns over the spending of such funds.
Huddleston said that he was thankful for Morin’s unusually large gift to the university. He said that due to the rarity of unrestricted donations being received, he did not think that a process would be needed to address such situations. Huddleston also highlighted the fact that of the $4 million, $2.5 million of it will be spent on a career initiative for students.
The reason for the spending $1 million of it on the scoreboard was because he thought it was a smart business decision.
“I believed and I still believe that spending for the video board will generate far more return on that investment than virtually any other way we could have spent it. Had we taken that money and put it in an endowment to fund scholarships for New Hampshire students, which probably would’ve gotten front-page headlines, that would spin off $40,000 in a million endowment every year. That isn’t peanuts, it would’ve provided two and half scholarships for New Hampshire students,” Huddleston said. “I don’t want to trivialize it. That would’ve been a good thing. But investing in the video board. Through advertising alone will exceed $40,000 which we can put toward our scholarships for New Hampshire students.”
“When I thought about what investment could we make that would be the soundest business decision, that would provide the most robust funding stream for years and years, it wasn’t politically appealing but it was the smartest thing to do from a business perspective. If we’re not attractive to students than the dollars stop coming in,” he said. “I feel, as the primary steward of this institution, I’ve got to pay attention to those revenue streams. I would make the same decision again. I think it was a sound decision.”
When discussing why the original budget for the stadium renovation didn’t include the video board, Huddleston acknowledged that the university doesn’t have enough money to do all things they want to do. The stadium itself had long been on the wish list before all the necessary funding was available. When those funds became accessible, UNH decided that the video scoreboard was not a top priority with the $25 million cap. When the money from Morin came fully through, Huddleston was able to address what remained on UNH’s wish list; one of those things being the video scoreboard.
Huddleston went on to talk about how Edward Mullen, Morin’s financial advisor and friend, repeatedly urged Morin to make the donation restricted to what he wanted and Morin repeatedly stated that he didn’t want that. The only restricted funds were allocated to the Dimond Library in the sum of $100,000.
“We need to be thoughtful about the next 150 years so that our successors are around to celebrate our 300th anniversary,” Huddleston said. “That’s why I thought about doing things that would pay dividends over the years. And both of those things [the video scoreboard and student career center] will do that.”
In regard to proposals from politicians on how to reduce or eliminate college debt, Huddleston acknowledged that there’s a serious problem with student debt. However, he was reluctant to endorse any type of federalized program that he feels could jeopardize the U.S.’s unique position in the world for the quality of its higher education system.