Campaign will be ‘defining event’ in taking U.Va. to top 10 to 15
Photo by Tom Cogill
|Gordon F. Rainey Jr.
By Dan Heuchert
Gordon F. Rainey Jr., a 1962 alumnus of the College of Arts & Sciences and a 1967 alumnus of the School of Law, set down the gavel he wielded as rector of U.Va.’s Board of Visitors in June and prepared to take the reins of U.Va.’s upcoming capital campaign, which aims to raise $3 billion by 2012.
Rainey, who will serve out the remaining three years of his board term while also leading the campaign, has for the last dozen years been chairman of Hunton & Williams, a law firm with 17 offices, including seven overseas, and nearly 850 lawyers. He recently sat down in his Richmond office to talk about his term as rector and his vision for how the campaign will transform his alma mater.
IUVA: You’re from Oklahoma, right? How did you end up here in Virginia?
Rainey: My father, my uncle and my cousin all preceded me at the University of Virginia. Both my dad and my uncle were captains of the boxing team back in the ’30s. Boxing was a very central part of life in Charlottesville in those days. I may have considered going elsewhere to college, but not very seriously.
My brother followed me to the University and my sister went to Hollins, so while we all three grew up in Oklahoma City, I think it could fairly be said that we feel like we have Virginia connections.
IUVA: What is it about the University that inspires such loyalty?
Rainey: I had a wonderful experience, both as an undergraduate and later in law school. … The values that were instilled in everybody at the University of Virginia have proven to be values to live by. I think most alumni who spent their formative years in Charlottesville have experienced what I’ve experienced, and that is your sense of obligation to the University and your sense of appreciation for what you learned there, not just in the books. It gets stronger and stronger.
AT THE HELM
IUVA: You’ve held several key positions at the University. You were president of the Alumni Association, a member of the Law School Trustees and the Board of Visitors, and rector. How have these experiences helped you prepare to lead the campaign?
Rainey: I like to think I’m fairly well informed about the issues facing the University and about the goals and objectives we’ve set — which cannot be achieved if we’re not successful in the campaign, or cannot be achieved at the level we all envision. I think remaining on the board will be a help; I’ve got three more years to go … and I think those are going to be an important three years because they will see the development of the campaign themes, the national kickoff, and the regional kickoffs. If I don’t think the board is as focused on the importance of the campaign as I think it should be, I’m going to do what I can to influence that.
IUVA: How do you see your role as chairman of the campaign committee?
Rainey: I think the campaign chairman obviously is somebody who needs to be seen to be committed. It’s fine to be knowledgeable, but my role is going to be to lead the [effort], and that means probably a lot of things I hadn’t anticipated. [Senior Vice President for Development and Public Affairs] Bob Sweeney and his staff have done such a marvelous job of organizing this thing. I view myself as being the cheerleader for it, and also as participating in some of the more important [fund-raising] calls — being John Casteen’s partner in that.
NEW RELATIONSHIP WITH STATE
IUVA: Many people credit you with leading the effort to redefine the University’s relationship with the state. Why was that so important for the University, and what implication does it have for U.Va.’s future?
Rainey: It’s enormously important to the University.
You often hear alumni criticizing the legislature both because it exercises too much control and it gives us too little money. But to be fair and objective about it, it is a state university. The last time I checked, a lot of the buildings [on Grounds] were owned by the state.
It is true, on the other hand, that the state has undernourished not just the University of Virginia, but all of the public colleges and universities from a financial point of view. That hasn’t been because our political leaders didn’t perform their responsibilities; it’s because the resources weren’t there. This is something that’s going on not just in Virginia, but all over the country.
At the University of Virginia, something less than 9 percent of our operating budget came from the state last year. Now, some people say, ‘Well, nuts to the state,’ but that 9 percent, or 8.1 percent actually, was about $144 million. It would take $2 or $3 billion in endowment to replace that, so we’re not about to say nuts to the state, nor should we.
The Virginia Higher Education Restructuring Act is going to start us down
a path that will be enormously beneficial to the University. It’s going to mean greater freedom of operation and less micromanagement at the state level. It’s going to enable us to be more efficient and effective.
Every year we’re ranked either the No. 1 or 2 public university in the country, so we know what we’re doing. We don’t need as much [oversight] as we’ve been getting.
By the way, this ball’s not over the goal line. We’ve got to negotiate a six-year agreement. It’s going to be terribly important, and we have a board committee designated to also put together a 10-year financial plan. The ultimate aim — which I think is attainable, but we’ve got to succeed in this capital campaign — is to become self-sufficient from a financial point of view. That does not mean going private. It means being essentially a privately funded public university.
I’m delighted to take credit for [the charter legislation], but as you perfectly well know, it’s been a glint in the eye of a lot of people [on Grounds] for a long time. I was just lucky enough to have it happen on my watch. The freedoms that are going to come over a period of time from that are critical to achieving the vision we’ve got.
IUVA: The state’s one-size-fits-all approach to Virginia’s colleges doesn’t really work because there’s such a variety within the system.
Rainey: And different missions. I honestly do believe the University of Virginia has the potential to become one of the pre-eminent educational institutions in the world. I’m not going to tell you when that’s going to happen, but I strongly believe we have the potential to achieve that sort of pre-eminence.
RISING TO TE TOP 10-15, PUBLIC OR PRIVATE
IUVA: How will the capital campaign influence our national rankings?
Rainey: I say I don’t care about rankings, but obviously you have to care about the rankings. We want the University of Virginia to be, as quickly as we can get it there, in the top 15, and I’ll be very disappointed if we don’t have it in the top 10 once we fully complete this next round of expanding our endowment. We’ve got a lot of work to do.
IUVA: Larry Sabato challenged his fellow alumni to give to the upcoming campaign “until it hurts, and then give some more,” and said the University’s future depends on it. What do you believe is at stake in the campaign?
Rainey: I think it is going to be the defining event. I think when we look back 10 years from now, we’re going to see that success in this campaign, together with the very astute investment management we have in place, is going to enable us to take a serious leap over a number of our peers.
We need a $10 billion endowment to achieve the vision. We’ve got $3 billion now. We’re going to go out and try to raise three more, and we’re going to try to get the other four from consistently strong investment returns, so that 10, 12 years from now, when you look at our balance sheet, I hope very much you’ll see an endowment of $10 billion.
If you think about what we’re operating off of now, you can see that we’re going to have a much more solid financial foundation to not just maintain the excellence of our programs, but to dramatically enhance their excellence, and to provide programs in areas where we heretofore have not really been in the game. So, is this important? Yes, it’s important.
IUVA: Getting back to the campaign, $3 billion is certainly ambitious. Is it realistic? Do you think you can raise $3 billion?
Rainey: Oh, yes. We’ve almost got a billion raised now. … Bob Sweeney will tell you that it’s there; we just have to make the case.
IUVA: How is this campaign different from the ones that have gone before?
Rainey: We need to create in all of our alumni — not just the rich ones, but in all of our alumni — a sense of obligation. Princeton does it very effectively, and I don’t see any reason why we can’t do it. At Princeton, you’re expected to give. They start [encouraging] those kids [to give to the institution] when they’re juniors. [Giving] is expected of you.
If you think about it, when we give kids a degree from the University of Virginia today, we’ve given them an annuity. [We need to instill in them a] sense of the need to create for succeeding generations the opportunity they were given. That’s a pretty simple concept.
Note: This is the first of a two-part Q&A with Campaign Chairman Gordon F. Rainey Jr. Part two will appear in the Nov. 4 issue of Inside UVA.