College News

UW System, bankrupt UW-Oshkosh Foundation reach $4.6 million settlement

Following a long-running financial scandal, the UW System settled with the UW-Oshkosh Foundation on who would cover building project loans after filing for bankruptcy. 

Image By: Sydney Widell

In the midst of an ongoing bankruptcy case, the UW System Board of Regents reached a settlement agreement with the UW-Oshkosh Foundation. 

The Regents arrived at the $4.6 million settlement in the final hours of Friday. Prior to the holiday weekend, the court-ordered mediation provided closure to those responsible for paying building project loans. 

The UW-Oshkosh Foundation and the Regents agreed "to confirm ownership of" the Alumni Welcome and Conference Center, which is one of the remaining building projects the foundation hadn't sold to pay off a portion of the debt. The owner of the center remains unclear.

In August 2017, the foundation filed for bankruptcy after millions of dollars were privatized by former Chancellor Richard Wells and former Vice Chancellor Tom Sonnleitner.

The case began in January 2017 after the UW System filed a lawsuit against the administrators for siphoning taxpayers' money into five building projects, allegedly amounting to more than $600,000.

The pair previously signed “comfort letters” to various banks, ensuring them the university would be able to help out if they were unable to make bond payments. 

Sonnleitner and Wells denied the letters were legally binding. However, state law says money is allowed to be moved from a private to public entity, but not vice versa. 

Throughout Wisconsin, public university foundations are non-profit organizations, which are predominantly funded through private donations and investments. Since state support has decreased over the past few years, universities are gradually depending more on money from those foundations. 

Believing the UW System should be responsible, the UW-Oshkosh Foundation fired back with their own lawsuit against them. A judge issued a partial ruling over the summer, which the system appealed. 

In October, the current UW-Oshkosh Chancellor Andrew Leavitt was expected to testify after foundation officials revealed his connection to the felony charges. They said he and/or a staff member told three donors not to give money to the university’s foundation, but pledge their funds elsewhere.

Earlier that month, The Titan Alumni Foundation “blindsided” foundation leaders, leading to an initiative to “get to the bottom” of what the chancellor and others have been discussing with donors, according to Paul Swanson, an attorney representing the UW-Oshkosh Foundation.

Following Friday’s settlement, the Regents and Leavitt announced a “renewed relationship” in statements from foundation leaders. 

The settlement also includes the Witzel Avenue Biodigester, which converts organic waste into energy. This $1.7 million investment from the Regents was called a “revenue-generating educational asset that will yield significant returns.” 

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