Donor Intent Watch: Courts Rule on Arts and Education Controversies

Earlier this year, following the passage of the Donor Intent Protection Act in Kansas, Philanthropy Roundtable launched a monthly series on donor intent controversies around the country to better inform those who care about this important topic. This edition of Donor Intent Watch includes updates on current disputes at Middlebury College in Vermont, Valparaiso University in Indiana, a new (and unusual) donor intent controversy at the University of California-San Diego and discouraging news about the continued violation of Albert Barnes’s intent for his remarkable art collection.   

We encourage donors to contact us with any questions they have about our featured items and to consult additional resources on donor intent at the Roundtable’s Donor Intent Hub. We also welcome any news about donor intent that we may have missed.   

Court Rules Mead Family Can Proceed with Lawsuit against Middlebury College 

In our May 2023 Donor Intent Watch we discussed the 2021 removal of the Mead name from the iconic Mead Memorial Chapel, which former Vermont Gov. John Mead funded at his alma mater in 1914. Middlebury College officials claimed that Mead’s early but brief involvement in the eugenics movement was the reason for their action. In response, another former Vermont governor, Jim Douglas, filed suit against the college on behalf of the Mead Family on March 24, 2023. Middlebury then filed a motion to dismiss in April, claiming first, the gift agreement of 1914 does not require that the Mead name remain on the chapel in perpetuity and second, that Douglas and the Mead family lack standing to bring the case to court. The Vermont Superior Court heard oral arguments on July 21, and on August 4 ruled the lawsuit can go forward. The court saw no problem with legal standing, but is instead focusing on the documentation of the terms of the 1914 gift and has allowed the plaintiffs to proceed with discovery.  

 Middlebury’s legal representatives have chosen to build their case around the documents that preceded, accompanied and followed the gift. Former Gov. Douglas has already shared documents and photos held by Mead’s family with the court. We will be watching to see what discovery yields among Middlebury’s records and—most important—how the Court interprets the documentation it receives.    

Read more here

Indiana Attorney General Files to Dismiss Lawsuit Against Valparaiso University 

The May Donor Intent Watch also reported on a lawsuit filed against Valparaiso University and Indiana’s attorney general by Richard Brauer, the founding director of Valparaiso University’s art museum (now named the Brauer Museum of Art), and Philipp Brockington, an emeritus professor and benefactor of the museum’s collection.  The suit is to stop the planned sale of three paintings, which would fund a renovation of freshman dormitories. The university has maintained neither Brauer nor Brockington has standing to sue because they are not directly connected to the charitable trust that provided the artwork with the stipulation that proceeds from any sale of the works be reinvested in the museum and its collection.  

We commented on this in our earlier summary, noting [the plaintiffs’] “attorney, Patrick B. McEuen, claims that because Valparaiso’s art museum bears his name, Brauer has a ‘reputational stake’ and therefore ‘common law standing’ in the litigation.” Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita has rejected that creative claim and has filed for dismissal of the suit against the university citing the lack of standing. 

Read more here

Former UCSD Oncologist Wins $39 Million in Case Involving Donor Intent 

In a most unusual case, a jury recently awarded over $39 million to Dr. Kevin Murphy, a former department vice chair at the University of California-San Diego (UCSD), in support of his claim that the university was misdirecting funds donated specifically for his cancer research, and had retaliated against him when he complained. The dispute began in 2015 after the death of Murphy’s former patient, Charles Kreutzkamp, whose family awarded a $10 million dollar gift to the UCSD Foundation for what was designated simply as “cancer research.”  

A few months later Murphy claimed the funds were donated for his personal work with experimental brain stimulation technology, which he had used to treat the side effects Kreutzkamp experienced during chemotherapy. He backed up his assertion by citing a letter signed by Kreutzkamp’s widow, Ernestina Kreutzkamp, that indicated he was, in fact, the intended recipient of the funds. UCSD then transferred the funds to Murphy but later accused him of spending the money on his private brain treatment businesses, thereby violating university policy. Murphy countered with public statements about the university’s attempts to steal his funds, and—when his contract was not renewed in 2020—said he faced retaliation by the university as a whistleblower.  

Lawsuits filed by both parties finally brought the case to trial this summer. Among those appearing in court was Ernestina Kreutzkamp. According to a news report, she testified she could not read English and had neither written nor read the 2016 letter that Murphy used to claim the Kreutzkamp gift. Nor, she added, had she been aware of the contents of her late husband’s will before his death. She said she had spoken with her husband’s attorneys, however, and believed he had intended for the gift to support Murphy’s work. The presiding judge advised the jury they were not deciding Charles Kreutzkamp’s donor intent but could use his widow’s testimony to assess Murphy’s credibility. Although some of her testimony contradicted Murphy’s account of events, the jury ultimately ruled in his favor. UCSD has not commented on the outcome of the case. 

Read more here

Violation of Albert Barnes’s Intent Continues 

In July, the Montgomery County Orphans’ Court in Pennsylvania issued a decree permitting The Barnes Foundation to lend its art to other cultural organizations and to alter the way paintings are exhibited in its Philadelphia museum. With this decree, the court has now overturned two additional restrictions in art collector Albert Barnes’s indenture of trust, as it did when it permitted his collection to be moved from its location in the suburb of Merion, Pennsylvania, to downtown Philadelphia in 2012. Although the court has imposed limits on the number of paintings that can be on loan simultaneously and on the length of loan terms, this judgment is a striking departure from Barnes’s wishes. The decision to allow changes in the manner in which the art is displayed is equally momentous.  

Those who fought against the move of the collection must find it ironic that proponents of these new changes “made their case based on the premise that [the Barnes] is primarily an educational institution, rather than a museum,” according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. They also testified that in his lifetime Barnes had made loans of art and he and his associates would “mix and match ensembles of paintings and other works for analysis in their teaching.” No one seems to have countered that a donor’s actions while he is alive have no bearing on the written restrictions he leaves for those who follow. 

In 2022 Philanthropy Roundtable released a film entitled “Donor Intent Gone Wrong: The Battle for Control of the Barnes Art Collection.” In this 10-minute documentary we note “For Albert Barnes, it’s very clear, the last thing he wanted to happen to his art is exactly what happened. … He tried very hard to put protections in place. But even he didn’t anticipate everything that could happen.” Indeed.  

Read more here. 

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