Friday, April 28, 2017


The money side of the Virginia Tech story, however, is not limited to what has been described up to this point. Concerns for fundraising appeared to remain a high priority based on other actions quietly being taken in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.

At the time of the shootings, most families were unaware that Virginia Tech had previously scheduled the single largest fundraising event in the school’s history to formally announce the public phase of its $1 billion Capital Campaign. That gala was originally scheduled for the last weekend of April 2007, less than two weeks after the massacre. Appropriately the event was canceled; however, what neither the families nor most others knew was that on the afternoon of April 16th, even before all of the dead bodies had been removed from Norris Hall, efforts had begun within the administration to resurrect the Capital Campaign initiative. In an email sent from then Chairman of the “silent” phase of Virginia Tech’s Capital Campaign, Gene Fife, to Elizabeth Flanagan, Vice President of Alumni Affairs, Mr. Fife proposed that the “gala/party” was inappropriate in wake of the tragedy. He went on to propose an idea where they could “have a large but low key working dinner during which we review the facts of today, what we have and will be doing with the situation and to solicit support both financially and morally.” He then concluded with, “The only alternative I see is to cancel the planned events and reschedule it at another time---probably next fall.” The fundraising effort was so important to the Virginia Tech administration that it could not wait; school personnel, who could have been used to deal with other, immediate aspects of the tragedy, were siphoned off.  Through the extraordinary efforts of the Virginia Tech staff the entire event for over 700 attendees was quietly rescheduled by April 24th, only eight days following the worst school shooting in American history. The efficiency and thoroughness in rescheduling the fundraiser was in stark contrast to many aspects of the school’s dealing with the families and the survivors.

A group of senior administrators were informed of the results of this rescheduling effort during a private meeting held on April 24th, when they were informed that the new date for the event had been set for October 20, 2007. Coincidently, April 24th was also the exact same day Teresa and Mike Pohle buried their son, Mike Jr.

Neither the families nor general public had any idea of this new plan. In addition, they had no idea of the relationship between the September deadline for formal submission of the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund disbursement protocol and the largest fundraising gala in Virginia Tech’s history to be held one month later. Virginia Tech stuck to that schedule, yet kept it very quiet. On October 20, 2007 their event proceeded as planned.

In putting together a simple chronology of events you come up with a disturbing question: Did the school develop and stick to a cold and calculating plan to keep the families in the dark and reap huge amounts of money based on a horrific tragedy? Remember, even while the families were struggling, they were being pressed to complete a process dictated completely by the school, and without transparency.

Given the above, the timing of the school’s dealings with families relative to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund and the timing of their Capital Campaign party attended by over 700 donors appears to be far more than mere coincidence. In other words, Virginia Tech’s fundraising plans secretly were set in stone only eight days following the shootings, and remained the school’s secret. This also suggests that the clear objective was to ensure that any funds intended to support the families had to be identified by Virginia Tech before the rescheduled kick-off for the public phase of their $1 billion Capital Campaign event. The whole thing was laid out like clockwork!

On October 21, 2007 an article appeared in the Roanoke Times discussing the fundraising gala held the previous night. Mr. Gene Fife, Chairman of the “private phase” of Virginia Tech’s Capital Campaign, was quoted in that article with a statement that tore through the heart of the families. His statement was: “You can’t wash it away and pretend it didn’t exist or happen; on the other hand, you can’t just wallow in it forever.”

On October 30, 2007, nine days following that major fundraising event, President Steger released a statement to the media discussing the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund and the families. In his statement, Steger said that it would have required the “wisdom of Solomon” to determine the best use of the funds donated to Virginia Tech. He added that even though the school had tremendous needs, they (the administration) decided to disperse the “bulk of the funds” to the families. All along, school statements appeared to be a calculated effort designed to convey the impression that Virginia Tech was focusing on the needs of the families first. In fact, as I have pointed out, the families were never brought into the equation. They were never consulted and were given a take-it-or-leave-it deadline to participate in the fund.

In his comments President Steger stated, “The University never actively solicited monies.” Steger chose his words carefully; they were clever and danced around the truth. He immediately raised the families’ suspicions. Their suspicions were fed by a rumor that major donors were quietly being given guidance on the timing of their donations. Specifically, the rumor was that major donations should be delayed until after the families had received their money. That way the donations would go directly to the Capital Campaign and would not be considered part of the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund.

By reviewing the Capital Campaign financial results in the months following April 16th there appears to be an interesting pattern consistent with and supporting that rumor. The table below shows the gains in the value of Virginia Tech’s endowment fund by month from May to December of 2007. For reference, the fiscal calendar for both Virginia Tech and the Virginia Tech Foundation ends June 30 of each year. With that as background, note the monthly increases for May and June following the shootings, then for the next three months where they drop considerably, followed by the dramatically upward movement starting in October of 2007, when their Campaign fundraiser was held.

Virginia Tech Capital Campaign
Monthly Increase in Value

 & Year
Capital Campaign
May 2007
+ $ 15.7
June 2007
+ $ 23.0
July 2007
+ $ 8.5
August 2007
+ $ 8.7
September 2007
+ $ 9.5
October 2007
+ $ 38.6
November 2007
+ $ 11.7
December 2007
+ $ 31.8

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