Top UConn Donor Asks for $3 Million Back

A top donor to the University of Connecticut has demanded back $3 million.

January 26, 2011, 12:42 PM

Jan. 26, 2011 — -- A long-time donor to the University of Connecticut has demanded back $3 million and will halt future donations in a public spat over the school's hiring of a new football coach.

The donor, Robert G. Burton, president of Burton Capital Management, accused the school's athletic director of mismanaging the program and not communicating properly with him.

Burton addressed a five-page letter, dated Jan. 19, to the university's athletic director, Jeff Hathaway. Burton said Hathaway, who succeeded former director Lew Perkins in July 2003, did not comply with his request to be "involved in the hiring process for the new coach." Burton said Hathaway only informed him of the new pick, Paul Pasqualoni, after he was hired on Jan. 13.

Burton wrote that he made clear requests in a phone conversation on Jan 3. He said his requests were to be "in the loop and add value and comments on any prospective candidates," as the previous athletic director had afforded him, and he was "not looking for veto power."

"I am fed up with you as a manager because you did not let the hiring process take place in an open manner," wrote Burton in a letter, obtained by the Greenwich Times. "I believe that you are not qualified to be a Division 1 [athletic director] and I would have fired you a long time ago."

UConn Athletics spokesperson, Mike Enright, released a statement describing the hiring process for the new coach: "The UConn Division of Athletics followed a very thoughtful and thorough process in its search for the University's next football coach, which was the subject of great interest on the part of the UConn community, including our fans, donors and alumni. Many people, including Mr. Burton, shared their ideas about potential candidates with us."

"Jeffrey Hathaway did receive and acknowledge Mr. Burton's advice from the beginning of the search and shared with the Burton family the decision making process and the eventual choice... In the end, the decision was appropriately made by the University in the best interests of UConn and our football program. The Burton family has been exceptionally supportive of the University of Connecticut for many years. The University is grateful to the family – especially for the benefits they have provided to many of our students."

In his letter, Burton wrote that he was qualified to assess coaches based on his experience as a former college football player and scout for the Minnesota Vikings.

"What you don't know about me, other than being a college football player/captain and NFL draft pick, is that I know more football coaches than the majority of Athletic Directors in America," Burton wrote.

Burton described himself as the football team's "largest donor" who gave over $7 million to the university. He asked that Hathaway return the $3 million he donated for the Burton Family Football Complex and that he plans to "donate these funds to another university that supports our objectives and goals."

The complex opened in the summer of 2006 and Burton's contribution was the "lead gift" according to a university press release.

Though Burton did not attend UConn he did receive an honorary Ph.D. from the state-run university. His wife was a graduate and his son, Michael, was captain of the football team in 1999, according to a university press release.

Burton cut ties to the football program and most of the university, including transferring football scholarship money to students at the university's business school.

"After this slap in the face and embarrassment to my family, we are so upset that we are out of UConn," Burton wrote. "What this means is that we do not want to deal with people like you and your committee, whom we do not trust and cannot count on to make the correct decisions or do anything right with our money."

He said he will halt plans for the business school to train managers at his three companies in Connecticut.

Calls to Burton were not immediately returned.

Burton also blamed Hathaway for the decision of former UConn head football coach Randy Edsall to join the University of Maryland's football program earlier this month.

"When the press contacts me, I plan to tell them the truth and the entire story about how your lack of support was the primary reason Randy departed from UConn and how you did not even give the football team's largest donor the opportunity to provide any input about the head coaching job," Burton wrote.

Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, said this is not the first time donors have asked for money back from charities. But it is rare, and she does not recall a past event in which the request was granted.

"Once donor the gives a check to a charitable institution and it's processed, you usually can't get it back," Palmer said. "What this is about is public relations. The resolution that they want to come to is to make other donors comfortable in giving to institution."

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