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Donors react to Ty firing

Teresa Fralish | Friday, December 3, 2004

In the immediate wake of head football coach Tyrone Willingham’s firing on Tuesday, reaction among alumni regarding donations to the University appeared to be mixed, according to students making solicitation phone calls Tuesday and Wednesday evening.

Some alumni said they would increase contributions as a result of the firing, while others criticized the action and said they intended to limit donations or write letters to the University, student workers said.

“There have been some people who were excited,” Phone Center student employee Danielle Palkert said. “There were also people who weren’t happy that it had been done because of how well Ty conducts himself. … I would say of the people I talked to it was probably 50-50.”

Palkert said at least one alumnus she talked with intended to write a letter of complaint to the University.

“I was definitely surprised that it was so mixed,” she said.

Student caller Diana Duran said while alumni generally seemed positive about the firing, others criticized the University’s judgment.

“For the most part people were excited. Other callers had complaints,” she said.

Of the alumni who expressed concern, some said they would take action as a result, according to Duran.

“I had another guy tell me he sent a check and then cancelled it. … We also had people say ‘we’re not donating anymore’,” she said.

The average two-hour shift includes about 20 to 25 phone conversations with alumni, according to Duran.

In contrast, one alumnus told student caller Janet Claseman he planned to begin donating again after a two-year hiatus

“It was kind of a mixed feeling,” she said. “[But] a lot of people were happy.”

Junior Gretchen Byars said the alumni she spoke with didn’t tend to express strong sentiments either way about the Willingham firing.

“Most of the mentions weren’t of concern,” she said. “They were sort of joking – there weren’t really calls expressing concerns.”

However, at least one alumna said Willingham’s firing would cause her to seriously reevaluate her contributions to the University.

“I think it showed a gross lack of integrity,” said 1979 alumna Jean Matich.

If she hadn’t already mailed a check to the University this year, Matich said she wouldn’t send one, and her and husband, also a Notre Dame graduate, might consider withholding future donations.

“I don’t know – it may or it may not,” she said about whether the firing would cause her to curtail donations. “I’m really anxious to see how the University handles this.”

Mike Brach, a senior director for development at the University, said news of the firing did not appear to generate significantly altered responses from alumni to phone solicitations. He said student callers keep logs of their contacts with alumni and they did not show a strong shift.

“We’ve not received any more [comments]. If you were to say how many references the football program received in their calls compared to last week it probably would’ve been about the same,” he said.

But Brach said he could not speculate further on the impact of Willingham’s firing for alumni donations.

Because of deadlines for inclusion in the alumni ticket lottery and tax returns, Brach said December was one of the busiest times of the year for contributions.

“A big time of years when gifts are coming is now,” he said.