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Not so fast: $250M gift to Kentucky college withdrawn

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By The Associated Press
Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, 9:57 a.m.

A $250 million donation that would have been among the largest gifts to higher education in U.S. history has been withdrawn from a small Kentucky liberal arts college, officials said Monday.

Centre College in Danville, Ky. — known for hosting vice presidential debates in 2000 and 2012 — said Monday that the all-stock gift from the A. Eugene Brockman Charitable Trust was linked to a “significant capital market event” that put considerable time pressure on the college to structure the gift and the proposed scholarship program.

“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College officials said they were notified by the trustee last week with word that the gift had been withdrawn.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 in an interview.

A statement from the school did not include comment from the trust or its trustee. Through a spokesman, the son of the trust's founder — who formed the charitable organization a few years before his death — declined to comment Monday.

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, the school had said.

Trollinger said in an interview that the gift was part of a multibillion-dollar “corporate reorganization and 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the college, the transaction is not going forward and as a result, the gift that had been committed to Centre has been withdrawn,” he said.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.”

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 gift. “A task force of trustees, faculty, staff and students will be assembled to continue this conversation,” he said.

“Centre College was an outstanding national liberal arts college before the gift was committed, and Centre's future remains exceedingly bright,” Roush added.

When announced, 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.

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.

Bob Brockman is also chairman and CEO of The Reynolds and Reynolds Co., an auto dealer services firm that merged with Universal Computer Systems in 2006. The company develops software and services for automotive dealerships.

Brockman declined to comment Monday through company spokesman Tom Schwartz.

“This is between the trust and the college,” the spokesman said.

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.

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