Pennies from heaven

When we called Kevin Engel, he had just pulled up into a Stanford University parking lot, near the college’s Bing Performing Arts Center.

Engel, the director of development who oversees the major gifts team for Wheaton’s current capital campaign, “From the Heart, For the Kingdom,” mentioned that Wheaton’s architects had made a prior hike to the northern California campus to get inspiration for Wheaton’s own $60 million planned performing arts center.

“I wanted to see where some of their inspiration came from,” Engel said.

The performing arts center is just one out of 12 priorities in Wheaton’s $175 million initiative, named with the college’s motto in mind. The hearts that the advancement office is targeting, however, may not be so easily swayed.


The Wheaton Fund

In the basement of the Billy Graham Center, Phonathon student callers solicit alumni young and old, asking for donations to The Wheaton Fund. About 30 student employees, split into teams, chatter amongst themselves when they’re not praying for or reasoning with alumni on the phone, and compete for team of the week and team of the semester awards.

The Wheaton Fund, as the school describes it, is the college’s unrestricted annual fund that drives down cost of attendance and bolsters faculty salaries, Wheaton ministries and athletic programs. Wheaton’s annual Tuition Freedom Day — you might have seen the table in Lower Beamer Center — is a celebration of the alumni who donate to the fund.

Sophomore Luke Goodman, who is a caller team leader on his fourth semester with Phonathon, called The Wheaton Fund a “general fund that goes towards everything.” His team, the “Gongs of Wrath,” may win the team of the semester award.

With tuition costs rising next year, some might worry that alumni donations which usually go towards general tuition relief would instead go towards the specific goals of the campaign. However, tuition alleviation actually plays a significant role in the capital campaign.

With a goal of $30 million, The Wheaton Fund itself is integrated into the capital campaign as the second-largest component, after the performing arts center. President Philip Ryken said in an interview about the new campaign that annual giving is “not in competition with” strategic priorities because it is “actually part of” the strategic priorities.


The Hawkins Factor

But fundraising efforts come at a time of heightened scrutiny following the departure of former tenured associate professor of politics Larycia Hawkins. With the Board of Trustees still conducting an investigation into the way Hawkins’ situation was handled, some alumni have lengthy concerns.

Phonathon braced for more backlash than usual from alumni at the beginning of the semester. But while the majority of hostility from alumni has focused on Hawkins, the responses from alumni have been “a lot more positive” than anticipated according to Goodman.

He said that many of the alumni who refused to donate because of the school’s handling of Hawkins were people who have not historically donated. And other alumni who bring up the issue “continue to give anyway.”
Still, Phonathon’s pledge percentage — the rate of alumni who donate after being called — has decreased by around six percent this semester. This might be, Goodman speculated, due to the present uncertainty surrounding the Hawkins controversy.

About a week ago, several young alumni — Wheaton defines “young alumni” as those who graduated 10 or fewer years ago — received letters from Ryken, acknowledging the “complex situation” that the Hawkins controversy generated. Young alumni traditionally receive similar letters informing them of the donation calls they will receive. But in this letter Ryken addressed the controversy while requesting that the alumni both “seek to uplift and encourage” their Phonathon caller, who has likely also been affected by the Hawkins controversy, and be “open to” the “caller’s invitation” to give to The Wheaton Fund.

One young alumnus who received the letter, Philip Fillion ’15, told The Record that he found the email “extremely offensive” and would only consider donating if the review that the Board of Trustees’ task force is currently conducting was done by an impartial third party, among other things. Another recent graduate, Wyatt Harms ’15, suggested that Wheaton “doesn’t quite know what its mission is.”

In an interview, however, Ryken said that some of the areas of concern raised by these events “are clearly reflected in (the) strategic priorities” which the capital campaign hopes to advance. For example, plans “to endow a chair in world religions” would promote interfaith dialogue, while all the money allocated towards the priority of deepening ethnic diversity would be used as need-based scholarship money.

For his part, Harms — a leader in the #ReinstateDocHawk movement — did not take offense at the letter, saying that raising money is what the school has to do. “That’s their job.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 7.37.00 PM

A hydraulic excavator demolishes the College Court Apartments to make room for the new Welcome Center. Photo credit Andrew Graber.


Show me the numbers

“From the Heart, For the Kingdom” has been in what Engel calls a “quiet phase” for almost three years. It launched on July 1, 2013, and will continue until the advancement department breaks into the public phase of the campaign on Aug. 31, 2016. They plan for the public phase to end after almost two years, on July 30, 2018.

“We refer to it as a quiet phase,” Engel said, but “there’s nothing really secretive about it.”

During the quiet phase, the advancement office focused only on a few key individuals who could give gifts of $25,000 or more. The capital campaign also targeted the Board of Trustees, who, according to one of the campaign’s co-directors, Erin Shade, have a 100 percent donation participation rate.

In the $260 million campaign directly preceding this one, called “The Promise of Wheaton,” the quiet phase lasted for three years and the Board of Trustees alone invested a total of $40 million in the project.

According to numbers from February, the capital campaign had accumulated $106,461,447, or 61 percent of its total goal, with about four and a half months to go to the public phase. According to Engel, this could be good or bad progress depending on who you ask.

“It looks like we’re on target,” he said. “Many of us would like to be further along, and others feel like we’re just at the right spot.”

Almost all of the campaign’s 12 priorities have goals in the millions of dollars, including some of Ryken’s strategic priorities like deepening ethnic diversity and globalizing a Wheaton education.

Shade told The Record that the $7.25 million goal for deepening ethnic diversity would go completely to minority student scholarships.

The newly anticipated Welcome Center, which will stand where the French House and the College Court apartments now lie demolished, has a goal of $4 million. It currently stands at a startlingly low one percent, while nearly every other goal is in double digits.

Is it unusual, then, for the college to tear down the buildings in anticipation for a new building that is far from being funded? Shade explained that the funding is low because it was a late addition to the campaign.

“The Board of Trustees formally approved all of the new additions and the new total of the campaign in last year’s May board meeting,” Shade said. “It hasn’t been a year yet.”

As for why the college decided to go ahead and prematurely excavate the apartments: “There’s a cost to keeping unoccupied buildings on campus, so it seemed like the right time to take those down.”

The same goes for the newly developed “Asia Strategic Alliances” priority — now standing at zero percent — which involves hiring a new staff member, for which a job description has not been published yet. Since it is a new priority that was just approved in May, the College hasn’t yet finalized the materials for marketing the position.


The big spender

The largest single portion of money will go to the promised Performing Arts Center, a sum of $60 million. According to a Record article published earlier this year by Kelsey Plankeel, school architect Bruce Koenigsberg hoped to publish drawings of the new conservatory after the Board of Trustees’ meeting on Feb. 13, 2016. He told The Record that he would “probably” have drawings on Monday.

Koenigsberg shared that the concert hall would have 550 seats with “excellent acoustics.”

Alumnus Dan Quinn ‘15 was a music education major who played in five different campus ensembles: symphonic band, symphony orchestra, jazz ensemble, brass quintet and jazz combos.

He thought that the current facilities are out of date and called them “decent at best.”

Though the conservatory graduate, now pursuing a master’s degree in performing arts at Roosevelt University, thought highly of those studying in Wheaton’s conservatory, he said that the current building, McAlister Hall, wasn’t up to par with the music produced within.

A new performing arts center, Quinn said, would have “better acoustical properties and reflect the level of work going on.”

If the architects were influenced enough by the impressive facade and sweeping curves of the Bing Performing Arts Center, future generations of Wheaton students may enjoy a similar structure in the coming years.


One Response to Pennies from heaven

  1. I want to say something about the decline in Wheaton giving. You mention “the Hawkins factor” (a strange way to allude to a former professor, by the way).

    I want you to consider also the “LGBTQ factor”. I’m a Wheaton graduate (1959). For twenty-five years I have been committed to the woman who is now my wife. And I know for a positive fact I am joined by many, many Wheaton graduates (and I’m sure by extension other past Wheaton supporters) deeply burdened by the horrifying realization that Wheaton College is not a safe place for LGBTQ persons. Are you aware that when called for a donation there are those who actually feel too intimidated to mention this? They may mention concern for the lack of an impartial third-party evaluation of the handling of the dismissal of Dr. Laricia Hawkins and feel one concern is enough. And then feel guilty they failed to mention this other deep concern because being out to Wheaton feels still scary.

    Please don’t dismiss this as hearsay! I have read their actual personal accounts. Please know there ARE Wheaton students who do not feel safe and past students who did not feel safe. (One may ask why they went to Wheaton in the first place. The answer is that often one’s sexuality is undiscovered, repressed or denied until the student is actually at the college, or she/he may vainly hope to be “healed” there, or parents may insist on matriculation at Wheaton.)

    However it happens they find themselves at Wheaton, the horror is the institution’s blindness to and denial of their presence and of the need adequately to support them.

    Many Evangelicals and Evangelical institutions are taking a new look at their past positions and prayerfully considering whether God may be leading them into new understandings. Worth noting is Jesus’ promise to his disciples before leaving them: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth..” John 16: 12-13a

    I still love Wheaton! I gained so much from my four years there in the ’50’s. Back then it seemed a place of open earnest and honest consideration of any and all intellectual questions. It breaks my heart to see it harden into fear of where such questioning might lead. But the God we serve counsels us over and over, “Fear not!”

    I fervently pray Wheaton College will again come to acknowledge with joy that the “Spirit of truth” is the Spirit of all truth.

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