Joe Rutherford 6/16/09
Lloyd Gray 6/17/09
HED: Passion for Ole Miss shaped Khayat’s fund-raising methods
By JOE RUTHERFORD
Robert Khayat’s entire adult life has revolved around his association with and work for Ole Miss. It is a connection Khayat readily credits with shaping the person he has become and his determination to return to the university in generous measure its gifts to him.
What began as a young football player’s and fan’s support for athletics – specifically football coached by John Vaught – led him to collegiate gridiron and baseball glory, which paved the way for law school, academia, and the use of rare gifts of persuasion and conciliation.
Along the way, he came to know and befriend thousands of students, alumni, and friends of the university.
Khayat’s imprint is stamped across the gamut of programs and achievements, but the legacy will be tangibly sustained by money – a scarce commodity for most of the university’s existence. In short, Ole Miss lacked cash, limiting achievement, status and the capacity to fully educate.
Khayat, the boy from Moss Point whose family counted pennies every month and yet cultivated its own personal code of philanthropy, knew that Ole Miss needed money, lots of it, to become the sum of many dreams.
Khayat was vice chancellor when Gerald Turner, his predecessor, ran the university from the storied Lyceum. It was Turner’s handing him the responsibility for raising $100 million in Ole Miss’s first-ever major funds campaign that provided experience and perspective when, in 1995, it came his turn to fully lead.
The university’s foundation held assets of only $114 million when Khayat became chancellor – most of it money he had raised during the Turner tenure, 1984-1995.
He knew much more was required, and the Campaign for Ole Miss started toward a goal of raising $400 million.
It succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectation: $526 million in gifts for one of the poorest flagship universities in the nation.
“What really started all of this was the huge endowments that were being accumulated by large public universities like Texas and Oklahoma – oil money in the billions. And state resources were declining, and have continued to decline. Only 21.9 percent of our funding this year is from the state of Mississippi,” Khayat explained.
The generosity of Ole Miss alumni and friends was overwhelming, Khayat said.
“They were waiting to be asked. They were waiting for someone to tell them how they could help,” he remembered. “We never asked anyone for a specific amount. We laid out a need, and they responded.”
Khayat said the first $1 million gift was written on a “counter check” – a generic check without personal identification and addresses.
“None of us had ever seen a check for a million dollars before. Everybody in the office gathered around to look at it,” he remembered.
Innovation played a significant role in raising sufficient amounts for specific projects.
The Gertrude Castellow Ford Foundation, which had been approached about a gift for a long-envisioned performance center, offered $3 million. Khayat said he told them the sum was far short of the $20 to $25 million needed – and for naming. The foundation eventually agreed to pledge $1 million a year for 20 years, with the university using state bonding authority to pay up-front costs, retiring the debt with the annual gift to the foundation.
The Gertrude Castellow Ford Center for the Performing Arts was the site of the first presidential debate of the 2008 campaign. It won rave reviews.
The academic underpinning has been greatly strengthened, too, with generous gifts from the Jim Barksdale family (almost $120 million total for the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, Barksdale Reading Institute and scholarship at the UM Medical Center), the Bancroft Foundation for the Croft Institute for International Studies, and the Trent Lott Leadership Institute, endowed with gifts from friends of the former U.S. senator.
“Chancellor Khayat has a very sharp perception about approaching people for support of the university. He has a genuinely great empathy for the people with whom he is talking, and he has a great gift in making them the most important person in the world in the issue at hand,” said David Brevard, an alumni activist and business executive from Tupelo.
“He has a genuine love and passion for Ole Miss. He cares deeply about providing for Ole Miss the resources that build a margin for excellence, and he makes a strong case of how an individual’s gift can make that difference,” Brevard explained.
Brevard said just-retired Vice Chancellor Gloria Kellum was a tremendous asset for Khayat in working with him in the fund-raising as well as former UM Foundation head Don Fruge’. Fruge’ was the executive in charge when the $529 million campaign for Ole Miss started and when its over-the-top conclusion was celebrated.
Khayat makes a factually strong case for the goal he’s working to achieve, and he avoids pressure, Brevard said.
“It is more an invitation to participate,” said Brevard, a former president of the UM Alumni Association and head of B amp& B Concrete, headquartered in Tupelo.
Brevard, whose family has made major gifts for the Ole Miss School of Engineering, said Khayat knows how to gauge the way donors want gifts handled.
Brevard, who attended Ole Miss in the 1970s, when institutional finances were problematic, said he believes Khayat and others realized that years of a strong economy had placed many university alumni and friends in a position to be generous and that the time was right to undertake a major campaign.
In addition, Khayat oversaw a more recent, smaller campaign which surpassed its $200 million goal. Funds helped build the Inn at Ole Miss, a first-tier hotel that is part of the alumni complex on the east side of the campus. The campaign also funds a new residential college, faculty salary support, a new law school, other capital projects.
In total, Khayat’s tenure has seen more than $1 billion contributed to the university for special needs and endowments.