Amid financial troubles, Loyola seeks to raise $100 million _lowres

Advocate staff photo by SHERRI MILLER---Loyola University New Orleans hosted a media tour on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, to present their 3 year, $3 million remodel of the Monroe Science Complex.

Amid financial pressures that have led to faculty positions being cut through several voluntary buyouts, Loyola University last week announced an ambitious fundraising campaign in which it hopes to raise $100 million to go toward updating facilities, investing in athletics, funding more scholarships and creating a new home for its Jesuit Center.

The effort, dubbed the Faith in the Future campaign, is expected to continue through mid-2017.

So far, the drive has raised about $45 million in a little-publicized “leadership phase” in which the university solicited a small number of large donations to build momentum, including $13 million from New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson’s charitable foundation to go toward funding scholarships and establishing the Tom Benson Jesuit Center.

The center will be in Loyola’s former library building, which closed in 1999. The 36,000-square-foot building will be renovated to include the center and a new chapel, highlighting the university’s mission of integrating Jesuit traditions with the larger Loyola community.

The campaign is Loyola’s first major fundraising push in more than a decade, said Loyola graduate Derby Gisclair, the campaign’s co-chairman.

In hindsight, he said, the school should have conducted smaller, ongoing campaigns, which could have helped pay for the university’s needs as they arose. “You’re always supposed to be raising money,” he said. Now, several buildings need updating, including Monroe Hall, one of Loyola’s main academic buildings, which is undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation as part of the campaign’s priorities. The building’s interior work is slated to be completed in December.

About $20 million of the campaign’s goal is being targeted for providing more merit- and need-based scholarships, some of which will target first-generation college students.

Another $17 million of the total is being allocated to athletics facilities, including renovations to Loyola’s recreation and sports complex, such as reworked floors and updating its weights and conditioning areas, which Gisclair said “look like something out of ‘Rocky.’”

That effort is expected to lead to expanded athletic offerings for students.

As a nod to the university’s recent budget issues, about $7 million from the campaign will go into an unrestricted pool of money that can be tapped at the administration’s discretion, Gisclair said, “available to do things that require immediate attention.”

Loyola’s approach of spending time quietly soliciting large initial donations before announcing a public fund drive is fairly common, said Jennifer Delaney, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who has studied fundraising in higher education.

“It used to be that there would be campaigns, and they’d have a start and an end to them, and that still happens, though increasingly we’re seeing the time between campaigns being reduced to almost continuous fundraising cycles,” Delaney said. “It can be exhausting. These things need a lot of energy behind them, and having a concentrated campaign seems to be a strategy that institutions use when they highlight targeted things that they want to raise funds for.”

Apart from the push for donations, Loyola administrators have been considering ideas for restructuring the school’s academic areas. Discussions have included abolishing four of its five colleges and creating two new undergraduate and graduate colleges in their place, or reorganizing the colleges but keeping the total number at five. Neither plan is being portrayed as a cost-cutting measure and neither includes layoffs, officials say.

School officials announced in August that buyouts would be offered to faculty and staff, an effort at cutting positions for the third time in a year. The school also temporarily reduced the amount it contributes to employees’ retirement funds.

About 162 of the university’s 900 full-time faculty and staff were eligible for the buyout.

Loyola, like some other universities, has suffered dwindling enrollment and budget shortfalls in recent years, tied in part to declines in the number of high school graduates.

The Rev. Kevin Wildes, Loyola’s president, could not be reached for comment.

Gisclair, though, said he is optimistic that the fund drive will serve as a way both to raise much-needed money and to get Loyola alumni to reconnect with the university.

“The next couple of years is going to be a little bit more difficult. We’re going to have to be a little bit more creative,” he said.

“That’s what makes it fun: You have to spend some time building up your alumni network and your supporters network, and now you have to go out and mine that a little bit more,” he said. “It reinvigorates everyone.”

Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.