ASU Foundation: pour again

Talk about a cracked foundation.

The ASU Foundation is split from ASU. I emailed asking for salary information and was told the Foundation has no obligation to tell me because it’s independent of the University. That’s a confusing point as the Foundation is called the Arizona State University Foundation. Indeed, its stated mission is to “mobilize the ASU community as an engine for positive change,” which loosely translates to managing ASU’s assets.

The Foundation owns the Brickyard on Mill Avenue and the Fulton Center and rents space to ASU under service agreements. These agreements come to $25,560,875 and are paid from ASU to the Foundation. The Foundation’s CEO, Rick Shangraw, said the $25 million is made up of costs the Foundation incurs to manage the properties, the largest of which is salaries as the service contracts include work from several Foundation departments.

According to the Foundation’s 2009-2010 tax return, it paid more than $2 million to eight employees and had total salaries and benefits of $19.6 million. It spent $953,118 in travel expenses, $2.4 million for “meals and cultivation,” and $542,087 in lobbying expenses. The Foundation paid out $294,000 in employer matched retirement funds, and $270,000 in “discretionary contributions” to eligible employees.

The tax return shows the Foundation distributed $42 million in donations and grants to ASU -- money that was donated to ASU to begin with. The Foundation’s financial statement breaks this down to show about $4.8 million was for scholarships, $5.06 million was “to vendors on behalf of the University,” and $37.7 million was in donations and reimbursements.

Shangraw said the Foundation’s activities are crucial because of state budget cuts. That’s a good point, except that it seems that if the Foundation is giving such large amounts to the University, tuition should decrease. Why it hasn’t is a question for Michael Crow. Indeed, the Foundation’s financial report shows $116 million in pledges receivable over the next five years, which comes to $2,320 per student at 50,000 full-time students.

The Foundation’s 2009-2010 financial report shows it had $700 million in total assets, with $495 million in stock investments. That money is supposed to be for students, yet the Foundation paid 400 percent more in salaries than it gave in scholarships. Additional fees make the case the Foundation is a toy for the rich instead of a trust for students. The Foundation tax return shows $112,643 was spent on “conferences, conventions, and meetings,” $2.6 million on “office expenses” and $210,830 on “miscellaneous.”

The Foundation is an expensive middle person. The $25 million in service fees can be saved by running Foundation activities through a University department, and the assets can be managed more efficiently without the bureaucracy of a partner organization. As part of the University, the Foundation would be required to show salary data.

If the Foundation is for students it must act as such. A clearer mission statement is needed. The Foundation should be of, for and by the students, and it should be run within the University.

Now that’s a foundation to build on.


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