The University of Miami Gets Ranked as Nation’s Most Fiscally Responsible Nonprofit. Come Again?

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December 15, 2011; Source: Miami New TimesSome news stories make you wonder exactly what the heck people were thinking. According to Worth magazine (in a project with Charity Navigator), the most fiscally responsible nonprofit in the U.S. is —wait for it—The University of Miami. Worth said that the inclusion of some nonprofits on the list might surprise its readers. That’s an understatement where the inclusion of University of Miami is concerned. According to Worth, the most responsible nonprofits “have consistently demonstrated fiscal health and spend a high percentage of their budgets on programming” and Worth’s “new, more rigorous rating system . . . tracks accountability and transparency.” The University of Miami’s press office gushed that the rating reflected “the sentiments put forth by our donors when we speak to them about how they can help further our mission.” The university’s press release added, “we look forward to . . . ongoing engagement with our donors, and we will continue to adhere to the accountability that they have come to expect from us.”

Come again? Accountability? Transparency? At the University of Miami? Do you remember the Nevin Shapiro scandal that occurred just this past summer? Or does Worth think that the Shapiro role in raising money as a “booster” for the University of Miami is now old news and therefore out of sight, out of mind for potential donors? Let’s remind ourselves about the fabulous transparency and accountability at the University with these snippets from the NPQ Newswire:

While serving a 20-year sentence for running a $930-million Ponzi scheme, Shapiro sat down for 100 hours of interviews with Yahoo! Sports as part of its 11-month investigation into the University of Miami sports programs. Shapiro told Yahoo! Sports that he spent millions of dollars on Hurricane athletes between 2002 and 2010. In addition to cash payments to athletes, Shapiro says that he also provided “prostitutes, entertainment in his multimillion-dollar homes and yacht, paid trips to high-end restaurants and nightclubs, jewelry, bounties for on-field play (including bounties for injuring opposing players), travel and, on one occasion, an abortion.” Among the recipients of Shapiro’s reported generosity were several Miami players who have gone on to star in the NFL, including Vince Wilfork, Andre Johnson, Devin Hester, Kellen Winslow, Antrel Rolle, and the late Sean Taylor. . . . [University of Miami president Donna Shalala] can be seen in one photograph accompanying the Yahoo! Sports article standing next to Shapiro, gleefully examining a $50,000 check Shapiro had donated to the football program. In all likelihood, of course, Shalala didn’t know at the time that the money came from Shapiro’s Ponzi scheme. . . . The whole sordid affair raises questions about the role of boosters in nonprofit university charitable fundraising. . . . Yahoo! Sports makes clear that Shapiro was a regular and generous annual donor to University of Miami sports. Shapiro was also part of the NCAA-approved “living scholar’ program, in which he could personally (or corporately) fund the athletic scholarships of specific players. . . .”

Everyone at the University had an “it wasn’t me” reaction to the revelations about Shapiro—a far cry from the strong statement of institutional accountability that should have been delivered. It is hard to see how Shapiro’s interactions with the University—disclosed only as he sat in jail, perhaps gabbing to the press in order to give prosecutors other felons to track down—constitute transparency and accountability. Perhaps the formula or logarithm worked to classify the University of Miami as tops in fiscal responsibility, but it only serves to remind us of what Mark Twain once said: “Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.”—Rick Cohen