Travel essential to cultivate FLC donors

Bacon

I have some comments on the story headlined “Dubai trip elicits an ethics complaint,” (Herald, May 26). I am the chairman of the Fort Lewis College Foundation board of directors. Our mission is to support the college and its faculty and students by raising money for scholarships, faculty grants and capital improvements, which we could not accomplish without the leadership and active involvement of the college’s faculty and administration, particularly President Dene Thomas.

She has proved to be an accomplished and energetic emissary for FLC – well worth the investment we’ve made in her travel over the last three years.

Whenever Thomas travels on behalf of the college, whether it’s to Denver or Dubai, she routinely meets with FLC alumni, potential donors, high school guidance counselors, prospective students, and the leaders of other colleges and universities who are existing or potential partners of FLC. The foundation is aware of and wholeheartedly supports her efforts. She not only builds awareness of and goodwill toward FLC, she also attracts prospective students and develops relationships with individuals who could make the kinds of donations that would significantly enhance our resources and aid the college in its mission. In short, she plays an invaluable role in helping secure FLC’s future.

One of the adages of relationship-building, followed by fundraising, is that you can’t raise money without spending money. If you don’t make the investment, you won’t reap the rewards. The Herald noted that Thomas has made 48 trips in the last three years at a cost of $44,000. That may seem like a huge investment, but it is a pittance compared to what some other colleges and universities invest in outreach. My regret is that she didn’t make twice the number of trips at twice the cost. With Colorado funding of higher education waning, we are being challenged to broaden FLC’s base of support and raise substantially more money than we do today.

The allegation that Thomas committed an ethics violation during her travel to Dubai is nonsense. She made that trip, as she has made others, with the full knowledge, support and approval of the foundation as well as the FLC board of trustees. She will make more international trips in the future, including, more than likely, a return trip to Dubai. We expect her to cultivate relationships with potential major donors, and to do that she has to go where they are. And she has to be culturally aware and sensitive to the norms and expectations of the countries she visits, which means traveling with her husband in Muslim countries.

This ethics complaint is a distraction, and I regret that the Herald chose to make it a front-page story. The real news about FLC is that enrollment is increasing under Thomas’ leadership. After years of declining enrollment, we will soon return to having more than 4,000 students on campus. We are starting a new scholarship program that will motivate students to finish college in four years. This fall, we will introduce graduate study at FLC with a masters of arts in teacher leadership, and we are embarking on capital campaigns to build a new home for geosciences, physics and engineering, and to enhance our athletic facilities by expanding Whalen Gymnasium.

Thomas doesn’t deserve all the credit for these exciting developments, but her guiding hand is behind everything happening at FLC. In terms of vision, commitment, energy and leadership, she is the most effective president FLC has had since Joel Jones.

Terry R. Bacon is chairman of the Fort Lewis College Foundation board of directors. Reach him at terry@terrybacon.com.

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