Donor Reportedly Endowed a Chair -- and Filled It

Florida A&M faces controversy over million-dollar gift to its law school.
June 8, 2005

A Florida newspaper has revealed a highly unusual gift to Florida A&M University -- in which the donor of an endowed chair ended up holding the position he paid to create.

The St. Petersburg Times reported that Shirley Cunningham Jr., a Kentucky lawyer, gave Florida A&M $1 million to endow a chair in the law school in 2001. Under a state matching program, Florida then provided $750,000 for the chair. According to the newspaper, Cunningham was then hired to fill the chair and paid a salary of $100,000 a year -- even though the newspaper said Florida A&M officials could find no evidence that Cunningham performed any work for the salary.

Florida A&M removed Cunningham from its payroll recently, the newspaper reported.

A spokeswoman for the university said that she could confirm that Cunningham had been on the payroll and was not on the payroll anymore. She declined to comment further.

Aside from the question of whether Cunningham worked for his salary, it is unusual -- and counter to generally accepted fund raising ethics -- for someone to endow a chair and then be hired for the job.

Cunningham, in an e-mail message, said "there is certainly another side to the story," but declined to elaborate except to say that he would be releasing a statement later in the week.


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