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WPI's Top Donor Embroiled in Controversy

This item has been updated to correct errors in the original version.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s single largest donor is causing a commotion for the Massachusetts university, according to The Boston Globe.

Robert Foisie, 82, has been accused of hiring a hit man to kill his adult son and making charitable gifts to the university from secret overseas accounts, among other things.

Foisie graduated from WPI in 1956 and has since donated $63 million to the institution, making him its No. 1 benefactor. The business school bears his name, as does a scholarship program, and the college is currently constructing a $49 million building called the Foisie Innovation Studio.

After being contacted by the Globe, WPI responded to the allegations against its top donor in a statement, saying that it was “concerning.”

On Friday, President Laurie Leshin sent a campuswide letter about Foisie.

“Upcoming news reports may focus on personal disputes involving the Foisie family …. We don’t know whether any of the allegations are true or false, but I want to assure you that we are taking the situation seriously,” Leshin wrote. “While other universities and nonprofits have faced issues related to donors or major gifts, this is new territory for WPI. We are following this closely and will take action, if necessary, to ensure that we are aligned with best practices.”

Regardless of the outcome of the multiple court cases Foisie is named in (spanning three U.S. states), Leshin said, the innovation studio “is on track and will remain so” as “full funding to complete construction is in place.”

According to the lawsuit his ex-wife, Janet Foisie, is filing against WPI, about $4.5 million in donations to the university may have come from secret accounts set up outside the United States that Robert Foisie illegally kept private during their divorce negotiations.

Janet Foisie also said she suspects that her ex-husband continues to donate secret money to the university and has requested that WPI not spend any more of the family's donations until her court case is closed.

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UVA Tracks Applicants With Wealthy Relatives

For years, the admissions and advancement offices at the University of Virginia have been communicating about applicants with ties to wealthy alumni and donors, The Washington Post found.

Documents obtained by the Post include notes outlining the specific contributions that trace back to prospective students’ families and friends. The documents consist of 164 pages of data and reports since 2008. The so-called UVA watch list sometimes included jotted notes about a major donation (“$500k”) or a recommended decision -- “must be on WL” or “if at all possible A,” referring to “wait list” and “accepted.” The names of the applicants and their relatives were redacted from the documents, and the final admissions decisions were not included.

The 2013 records revealed that one donor was threatening to pull future contributions to the university after an applicant was put on the wait list. “According to people who have talked to him, [the person] is livid about the WL decision and holding future giving in the balance,” an advancement officer wrote in the file. “Best to resolve quickly, if possible.”

A spokesman for the university said fund-raising matters do not weigh on admissions decisions, and that the Office of Advancement receives recommendations for students by alumni and friends from time to time. “Such a practice is not unique to UVA and can be found at similar institutions,” Anthony de Bruyn, the spokesman, told the Post.

He added that the two offices do not coordinate about applicants, but that the advancement office “receives periodic updates to better inform its stewardship efforts.”

Based on the documents the Post received, 59 students applying for fall 2017 were followed by the advancement office.

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Presidents should recognize that a college's success is a group effort (essay)

Roger Martin advises new presidents that, while strong leaders surely make a difference, a college’s success can’t be attributed to any one person.

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Breaking NCAA rules hurts -- and sometimes helps -- institutions' fund-raising efforts

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