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Group says $8.2 million is being withheld

Aaron Steiner | Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A group of Notre Dame alumni and financial supporters released a statement Monday claiming $8.2 million in donations has been confirmed to have been withheld from the University in response to University President Fr. John Jenkins invitation to President Barack Obama to speak at Commencement and receive an honorary degree.

The group launched the campaign and Web site, replacejenkins.com, to tally the number of donations withheld April 16.

Dennis Brown, a University spokesperson, said when the announcement about the Obama invitation was made, administrators expected responses – both positive and negative.

“There are people who support the invitation and there are people that oppose it,” he said.

He declined to comment on the work of the replacejenkins.com group, stating: “We are not going to respond to every new tactic that is employed by the opponents.”

David DiFranco, an organizer of the replacejenkins.com effort and Notre Dame alumnus, said the $8.2 million figure represents just under 800 donors, all of whom have been confirmed through phone or e-mail exchanges.

The majority of the $8.2 million figure can be attributed to larger number donations, DiFranco said.

DiFranco said the initial figure is “very conservative,” telling The Observer that they want to make sure there’s “enough due diligence” paid to verifying the amounts.

DiFranco said there are numerous other donations totaling multi-millions of dollars that haven’t been confirmed yet.

The reported amounts not included in the $8.2 million figure “just didn’t get to our level of comfort,” he said.

“We don’t want to have any false positives,” DiFranco said.

Alumni and financial supporters of the University are asked to submit information regarding withheld funds using a form on the group’s Web site. But DiFranco said they’ve been careful about monitoring the legitimacy of the reported amounts.

“People submit amounts online, but nothing’s taken unfiltered,” DiFranco said. “Obviously, there’s some that start to emerge as bogus.”

DiFranco said that the $8.2 million represents a “one time figure.” He explained that the amounts include annual contributions that are being withheld for the time being, or estate funds that have been redirected away from the University, for example.

He could not say when participating donors might again start contributing those funds over the long term, saying the decision has to do with the leadership of the University, and an evaluation of University leadership is “up to the discretion of the individuals that are withholding [funds].”

In addition to the Obama invitation, he cited a number of past controversial decisions made by administrators at Notre Dame – including recent performances of “The Vagina Monologues” on campus – as examples of issues he and the campaigns supporters are concerned about.

“People want to see the leadership at Notre Dame be more consistently adherent to the Catholic doctrine,” DiFranco said. “They’re not so much concerned about Jenkins leaving as they are with who’s going to replace him.”

If a more “prudent” president or set of leaders was installed, DiFranco said, participating donors would again support the University.

Jenn Metz contributed to this report.