KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A $25 million gift in October helped push fundraising at the University of Missouri's flagship campus to a record high despite several months of turmoil stemming from the administration's response — or perceived lack thereof — to racial incidents.
The university announced Wednesday that its "Mizzou: Our Time to Lead" campaign had brought in cash and commitments worth nearly $171 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30. That's more than $23 million higher than in 2015 and nearly $7 million more than the previous record, set in 2014.
"We have a very generous donor base and they rallied when the university needed them," said Tom Hiles, the university's vice president for advancement.
The university, located in Columbia, found itself in the national spotlight in November when hundreds of students protested over what some saw as administrators' indifference to racial issues. System President Tim Wolfe and campus Chancellor Bowen Loftin resigned after the unrest escalated with one student's hunger strike and the football team announcing that they would refuse to play a nonconference game if complaints weren't taken seriously.
Afterward, the university became a magnet for state lawmaker complaints, with some calling for greater scrutiny of the system's budget and possible funding cuts. Many were angry that an assistant professor, Melissa Click, was not immediately fired for a confrontation she had with a student photographer and videographer during the Nov. 9 protests. It wasn't until February that the university system's governing board voted to dismiss Click without severance.
"We had some on campus saying, 'This is the worst thing ever, we're never going to recover, we might as well shut down the campaign,'" Hiles said.
A $25 million gift from the Houston-based Kinder Foundation in October, a month before tensions flared, helped kick off the public phase of the fundraising campaign. A $13.8 million donation to the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources also contributed to the record-breaking year, in which donations of $1 million or more were $30 million higher than the previous fiscal year.
Sam Hamacher, retired president of St. Louis-based diversified investment firm Harbour Group and a member of a cabinet overseeing the "Mizzou: Our Time to Lead" drive, said donors paid close attention to the university's reaction to the turmoil and how it addressed the issues that were being raised.
"This is a 175-year-old institution," Hamacher said. "At the end of the day, the people I associate with felt that we needed to really focus on fixing it if it needed to be fixed."
The university also was caught in controversies involving Planned Parenthood, health insurance for graduate assistants and the temporary resignation of the medical school dean.
Like Hiles, Hamacher praised Interim Chancellor Hank Foley's efforts to repair damage from the tumultuous year.
"I think there's a lot of support for Chancellor Foley," he said.
This story has been corrected to reflect that the football team threatened to boycott a nonconference game, instead of a conference game.