Marc Short left the University of Virginia’s Miller Center just six months into his one-year fellowship.
The former Trump administration official’s controversial appointment, which led two historians to resign their own posts with the center, has not caused any major changes to how the center’s leadership sees its mission and how it selects its professional fellows, officials said. It has, however, come in the midst of an ongoing effort to balance the center’s budget, attract new projects and fundraising and enmesh more of its operations within UVa.
Director Bill Antholis said he “feels really great” about Short’s fellowship at the center; he said Short had double the productivity of a typical fellow and contributed to the center’s understanding of President Donald Trump’s White House. Short, who served as Trump’s legislative affairs director, announced Tuesday he would return to Washington, D.C., to serve as Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff.
“There has been discussion of how we treat former officials, but I do not anticipate any rules about barring someone from serving with us if they were leaving a sitting administration,” Antholis said in an interview also attended by center spokesman Howard Witt. “I understand the concerns about cooling-off periods and this, that and the other thing, but I do not believe we are going to see a change in that.”
Antholis said the center has reviewed its processes for selecting faculty, faculty fellows and professional fellows but will not be making substantial changes to selection criteria.
The center also hosted a talk Friday with Antholis, director of presidential studies Barbara Perry and politics professor Sid Milkis that discussed the Trump presidency. The speakers touched briefly on Short’s tenure at the center.
“I study the presidency, and Trump is president, and it really was valuable having someone in the building who could tell me really important things about the dynamics of that presidency,” Milkis said.
In an interview, Antholis said the Short episode, accompanied by the departure of the former host of the “American Forum” program and three members of the center’s Governing Council, has not substantially challenged the center’s budget or fundraising, despite allegations of shaky financials.
“Revenues are up quite significantly up above budget,” Antholis said. “Both our revenue line and our expense line are going to be probably a million dollars or more above what they were last year because we’ve added projects that weren’t there last year. We’re projecting a small deficit, but will not draw from the quasi reserves, we’re just drawing from our cash reserves.”
In 2015, the Center’s Governing Council and the Miller Center Foundation’s Board of Directors authorized the center to pull up to $5 million from its then-$75 million endowment. The center ended up drawing $2 million in fiscal year 2016 and $750,000 in fiscal year 2017 to cover operating expenses.
The center ran a deficit from 2009 to 2011 and from 2013 to 2017, according to information provided by the center. Its deficit dipped to a low point of $1.1 million in FY2017, against income of $7.9 million. Higher education financial experts said there can be good reasons to draw from an endowment, but they cautioned against repeated attempts to use an endowment’s principle to resolve cash flow issues.
“It looks like they got pretty far out on their skis,” said Jim Finkelstein, a professor emeritus at George Mason University who studies compensation in higher education. “I never like to see a foundation spending more than they’re receiving. And when boards are in difficult circumstances, they often authorize a larger payout from the endowment. That’s never a good sign.”
David Roe, a former employee of the George Mason University Foundation and a certified public accountant, cautioned against allowing a nonprofit’s board to keep a portion of funds in board-designated or quasi-endowment pools.
“Trying to beef up your endowment in fact serves no purpose if it’s not kept permanently or temporarily restricted,” he said.
Antholis joined the center in 2015 and said the extra cash was needed to reorganize the center.
“We were making a number of transitions; we were investing in a brand-new website; we were investing in The First Year Project up front,” Antholis said. “We ended up fundraising some against that, which is why we ended up only spending $2.75 million of that approved funds.”
The center projects ending FY2019 with a deficit of $80,000.
“It’s important to know that we did not draw on that line of credit last year, we did not draw on it this year, and we have no plans to draw on it in the future,” Witt added. “We are achieving budget neutrality, which is the goal … we don’t ever expect to have to go to that full $5 million.”
Following departures from the Governing Council after allegations of inappropriate behavior, the center required members of the council and Miller Center employees to undergo Title IX training. Witt also said that center staff and faculty have formed a workplace culture committee and have produced recommendations for improvements.
The changes come amid ongoing efforts to incorporate the center’s operations within UVa’s main Grounds. Its fundraising and development will now be handled by UVa’s Office of Advancement, so the center doesn’t “have to reinvent the wheel every time,” according to Witt. Its Democracy Initiative, a project which aims to bring more of UVa’s scholarship into the public sphere and educate citizens for participation in government, is in conjunction with the College of Arts & Sciences.
Antholis acknowledged that those adjustments, as well as ending the “American Forum” program and shifting to more varied, public programming, has been taxing on staff and some of his more prominent faculty.
“For all of us, this has been a lot of change. And this approach has been harder on [staff] than I anticipated,” he said. “We fundraise differently. We budget differently. We take on projects differently than what we used to.”
This story has been corrected to indicate Bill Antholis' start date at the Miller Center in 2015. It also has been updated to include more information about the Miller Center's deficits.