Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
University of Arkansas at Little Rock Chancellor Joel Anderson doesn't pretend that $75 million is, in the world of university fund-raising, a big number. Compared to the U of A at Fayetteville, which raised $1 billion in its capital campaign completed in 2005, “we're pikers,” Anderson said in a recent interview. Indeed, the U of A raised $74 million in the past year.
But UALR's “Time for UALR” campaign is a big deal: It's the first comprehensive campaign in the history of the institution targeted to benefit the entire campus. The effort was so new the school, the only urban campus in the U of A system, had to staff up a development department.
Anderson said “Time for UALR” is past due.
“Little Rock and Central Arkansas needed a powerhouse university a long time ago, a half century at least. Now we're in the process of becoming that,” Anderson said.
The campaign, which ends Dec. 31, 2011, is 80 percent toward its goal, with $60.8 million in cash and pledges raised by Oct. 28. Driving the campaign, which began its quiet phase in 2005, is the university's Donaghey College of Engineering and Technology, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in mid-November with a $250-a-plate dinner and keynote address by former President Bill Clinton. Significant single gifts to the engineering collage include a $6 million donation from the Trinity Foundation to broaden engineering school offerings and a $5 million pledge from the Donaghey Foundation toward construction of the new $35 million engineering building now rising on campus. The college is helping correct what Anderson says has been an impediment to prosperity in Central Arkansas. “Nobody knows how many manufacturing plants or high tech [operations] didn't consider coming to Little Rock because [there was no] access to a college of engineering,” Anderson said.
For a time, UALR's efforts to grow — its athletic and doctorate programs are relatively new — were stymied by a fear that UALR was a threat to other universities in the UA system, Anderson said. But major gifts from the Reynolds Foundation ($13 million for the College of Business in 1999) and Jackson T. Stephens ($22.4 million for the Jack T. Stephens Center in 2003) showed the tide had turned on what was known as “Last Resort University.”
As a mostly commuter college, UALR graduates only a fifth of its students and has only 500 dorm rooms for the 12,000 enrolled. (It has plans to expand campus housing.) So unlike residential universities, it doesn't count on big gifts from loyal alumni. Instead, it looks to outside philanthropists who want to see the community thrive and its own faculty and administration. Other big investors in UALR's future to date: The Windgate Foundation, whose support of $1.1 million since 2006 created UALR's Applied Design program, one of the few in the region, and funded scholarships; the Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation in Springdale, which donated $1 million to endow scholarships in the School of Nursing; Connie and Bill Bowen, who gave $1 million to the William Bowen Law School; the Charles M. and Joan Taylor Foundation, which has given $500,000 to fund scholarships. UALR's deans and administrators have given nearly $1 million to the campaign; total campus giving, including from faculty, stands at $2.2 million, development director Bob Denman said.
That the faculty has donated so generously to the campaign “is a beautiful story,” Anderson said. “It's not unusual for campuses to solicit from faculty. What is unusual is that 53 percent participated, double the national average.” He said his colleagues at other universities get “wide-eyed” when they hear of the faculty's giving.
Among those faculty donors are Dr. Daniel Littlefield, who with his wife has pledged $131,950 to the campaign, most of which will support the Sequoyah National Research Center's annual symposium. Dr. J.W. Wiggins has donated to UALR his outstanding collection of more than 2,300 pieces of Native American art, housed in the Sequoyah Center. The center is unparalleled worldwide in its collection of newspapers and periodicals by the native peoples of North America.
Dr. Tom McMillan, chair of the Department of Math and Statistics and the committee heading up the campus campaign, said outside donors are impressed by the fact that UALR's own teachers are turning back a part of their paycheck to support the school. “I think it makes a difference with people who are interested in contributing.” He said the giving is a reflection of the faculty's belief in the school; his own experience is that his students are serious-minded and that the non-traditional students are focused and “a pleasure” to teach.
Anderson, when he became chancellor in 2003, began a strategic planning process for growth at UALR. Since then, the first dormitory was built at UALR and, like many metropolitan universities, the school is adding more dorm rooms; the new residence hall that will open in 2011 will add 500 new rooms. That in turn should allow more kids from outside Little Rock to attend, jazz up campus nightlife, increase graduation rates and create loyalties that in future will translate to philanthropic gifts.
Meanwhile, going to the community to seek support has been satisfying, Denman said. Asked for gifts, he said, key donors are saying, “Gee, it's about time.” It's also been good practice, for the next capital campaign.
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