Detroit Mercy nears $100M fundraising goal



The University of Detroit Mercy is closing in on a long-held goal of raising $100 million that will be used to fund scholarships, financial aid, academic programs and facility improvements.

President Antoine Garibaldi and other university officials late last month announced they’ve raised $78.5 million toward their goal since fundraising quietly started in 2012. The Oct. 27 announcement marked the campaign’s public period, during which the university will try to complete its goal through donations from alumni and various groups.

The campaign has already exceeded Garibaldi’s expectations. When he originally planned to fundraise, he was told by consultants about 6 years ago that $40-$60 million was the best the university could possibly raise.

“I just thought our alumni of 80,000 could do more, and they certainly have responded very very positively” said Garibaldi.

The campaign’s goals include $40 million for student scholarships and financial aid; $25 million for academic programs and faculty; $25 million for facility improvements; and $10 million for unrestricted gifts.

To give perspective on the campaign, event began with a panel discussion, moderated by Ron Fournier, publisher and editor of Crain’s Detroit Business and alumni of the University of Detroit.

The panel featured Rip Rapson, CEO of the Kresge foundation, Matt Cullen, principal of Rock Ventures, and Antoine Garibaldi, president of the University of Detroit Mercy.

The panel discussed how the city of Detroit was able to successfully come out of bankruptcy to a place where revitalization is active yet stable.

Rapson, a major partner with Detroit Mercy in the revitalization of Livernois-McNichols area with the Liv6 Alliance, attributed Detroit’s successes to philanthropy taking on a leadership role in the city.

“We were the one institution that wasn’t permanently endowed, we didn’t have to report to shareholders, we didn’t have to run for re-election, we really had the discretionary to try to figure out paths of progress that might hold the possibility of returning value in the long term,” he said.

As something to build off of, philanthropy allowed Detroit to develop with all four legs of the stool engaged – political, business and the cultural philanthropic communities – as Cullen put it, working together to generate a brighter future for the city.  

The importance of engagement, as Cullen noted, is not only subject to those entities in the city of Detroit but those around it as well.

“Oakland County thought ‘you know we’re going to be okay. It’s okay if Detroit goes away, we’re going to be okay’ and I think over time people have finally figured out that’s just not true, it’s all about connectivity,” he said.

For the university specifically, Garibaldi expressed his acknowledgment of the fact that no matter what action the university took, it would never be enough to attract students or alumni, if more changes were not made along Livernois.

And as a university, founded on a commitment to the community, Garibaldi’s engagement in the city goes beyond what it will do for the university.

“We get all the time unsolicited comments from neighbors in the area who say, ‘had the university left or had Mercy College or Detroit left the community, we would not have the kind of strong neighborhood and housing that we have’.” he said.

The Liv6 alliance, with the Neighborhood Homebase and the Ella Fitzgerald Park, that had a groundbreaking back in October, are one of the many things being done to revitalize the city around the university.

As all the panelist agreed, these developments are only beginning when it comes to the vision that they see for both Detroit as a city and the university as an essential component to the city’s success.

Their vision includes safe and stable housing that students could live in, increased access to high quality education, opportunities for students and faculty to engage in community activities, including shopping along the neighborhood areas, and having greenways, open spaces, and parkways.

And for Rapson and the other panelists, this goal is very possible, as clearly seen by the developments in the community so far as well as the money raised at this point.

“These are all things I think that overtime will make this a richer experience,” Rapson said. “But it can’t be done at you, it has to be done with you”

The university is ranked 19th as a best Midwest regional university in U.S. News & World Report, highly ranked in the Wall Street Journal Review of Colleges & Universities, and has issued 103 new endowed scholarships since the beginning of the campaign, showing alumni interest.

However, Garibaldi wants the university to do more.

“We know that we will have to increase our scholarships and grants, to recruit even more academically talented students,” he said. We will also need to enhance our academic programs and we will also need to upgrade our campus facilities as well as enhance our faculty scholarship and resource support.”

The event ended with a personal testimony by sophomore Donna Dudley on what the university has done for her and how it has allowed her to follow her passion.

As a double major in business administration and criminal justice, with a minor in African-American studies, Dudley brought a sense of realness to the event, through her testament of dealing with financial troubles as an independent student and a having no true support guidance, about what it truly means to donate money to a campaign such as this, as it can significantly impact the lives of students.