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New pact outlines roles, responsibilities of Missouri State and MSU Foundation

Claudette Riley
Springfield News-Leader
Brent Dunn, vice president of university advancement and executive director of the MSU Foundation, spoke at an event for the Clifton M. Smart III University Advancement Center in April 2024.

The relationship between Missouri State and the foundation that supports the university will enter a new era as soon as the nonprofit breaks ground on its future alumni center.

The construction of the Clifton M. Smart University Advancement Center — which will be owned by Missouri State but primarily used by the separate MSU Foundation — prompted both entities to want to place the details of their existing relationship, and its limitations, on paper.

On April 9, a memorandum of understanding or MOU between the university and the foundation went to the MSU Board of Governors, where it was unanimously approved. It spells out the existing relationship and clarifies the roles and the responsibilities of both parties.

"The foundation has existed for more than 43 years and its sole purpose is to support Missouri State University. The foundation has only had two executive directors during its existence and for most of its time has operated out of a building it owns," Smart said during an April 9 meeting of the MSU Board of Governors.

"With the sale of its building and my retirement coming, both the foundation and university administration thought we should memorialize the relationship operations and commitments in a document. It is also best practice nationally."

The MOU, also approved by the foundation's Board of Trustees, will be in place for 20 years and can be renewed by mutual agreement.

Brent Dunn, vice president for university advancement and executive director of the foundation, said the details for such relationships are typically codified through an MOU or contract.

Brent Dunn, vice president for university advancement and MSU president Clif Smart accompany actor John Goodman as he takes questions about a fundraising campaign in 2022.

"For all these years, we didn't have to have this because we only had two executive directors and ... five presidents during that time," Dunn said.

Dunn, employed by the university since 1985 and in his current role since 2007, attempted to retire last year. A new contract kept him in the role until May 2028.

Going forward, Dunn said the foundation wanted to "put in writing" the responsibilities for each entity.

"There are foundation boards and universities that do have issues but we haven't had them in 43 years and we don't anticipate to have them in the future," he said. "But having this MOU certainly delineates who does what."

Here are some of the details:

  • The new center planned for campus will be primarily used by the foundation, including the Missouri State Alumni Association and the Office of University Advancement;
  • The executive director of the foundation will be employed by the university and evaluated annually by the MSU board;
  • The university president and an MSU board member will serve as ex officio members of the foundation's board and executive committee;
  • If a new MSU president is sought, a member of the foundation board will serve on the search committee.

Rachael Dockery, general counsel and vice president for legal affairs and compliance for MSU, said the MOU does not change the relationship between the university and foundation.

"It is important for everyone to understand that we are separate entities, that the university is created by statute, by the legislature, that the foundation is a 501(c)3 corporation. That is important for a lot of reasons," Dockery said. "We have donors who anonymously, generously donate to the foundation and those donations are not subject to the Sunshine Law."

The Clifton M. Smart III University Advancement Center is expected to be built along National Avenue, just north of the Davis-Harrington Welcome Center.

In mid-February, the foundation announced the sale of the Meyer Alumni Center on 300 S. Jefferson Ave. to the Community Foundation of the Ozarks for $5.8 million.

The foundation will continue to operate out of that building while a new center is built on the campus.

Last month, the foundation announced that an anonymous donor gave more than $1 million with a request that the center be named for Smart.

More:Missouri State alumni center at 'front door of campus' to be named for Clif Smart

"The foundation has a lot of skin in that game. Specifically, they are going to contribute at least $15.8 million to its construction, including the sale proceeds that were $5.8 million, another $6 million of external fundraising on the part of the foundation, $4 million from their reserve," Dockery said. "And any cost above that $15.8 million will be split between the university and the foundation with the university ultimately owning the building."

Dockery said the MOU protects the foundation and the university if the present circumstances change.

"The foundation understandably has a great relationship with us all but what happens in 10 or 20 years? So they want this memorialized so that the university would not kick them out and they would be on their own," she said. "This document contemplates that for at least the first 20 years, that the new building will be primarily used by the foundation."