$10 Million for Telling the Truth

Donors impressed by Bucknell's handling of a scandal give university its third-largest gift.

February 11, 2013

Conventional wisdom holds that good news about alma mater inspires donors, and that bad news may scare them away.

Bucknell University is today announcing a gift that defies those beliefs. Two week ago the university announced that it had reported inaccurate data about its SAT and ACT averages, for years, to U.S. News & World Report and to others (including Bucknell's own board). While the university attributed the faulty data to a former employee, John C. Bravman, the president, issued a letter apologizing for the errors, which he said "violated the trust" of everyone who used the bad numbers.

Since the announcement, Bravman has received hundreds of calls and e-mail messages. And while Bravman said in an interview that some of those contacting him have been angry, he said that most have been extremely supportive of the college for being forthright about the past problem and how Bucknell would fix it.

But the most surprising call, he said in an interview, came on the Monday following the Saturday announcement of the score misreporting. Donors who want to remain anonymous and whom he described only as "a Bucknell couple" said that they wanted -- in the wake of the news -- to give $10 million to the university. This is only the third eight-figure gift in its history. The funds will support scholarships.

Bravman said that they "wanted to stand with the university at this point in time," and that they wanted to express support not just with a call but "in a very concrete way."

Asked if the gift suggests that loyal donors may stick with an institution, even in difficult times, if they see honesty, Bravman said that "maybe" this is such a situation. While people may assume that admitting to something that had been done wrong would discourage giving, he said this donation shows that "people have a variety of reactions to things."

He said that ultimately this was a gift about a couple's "love for Bucknell."


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