The Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI) in Kansas City, Mo. filed a civil lawsuit against Lawrence and Kristina Dodge, Chapman donors and namesakes of Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, for failing to make good on a promised donation.
The Dodges pledged $5 million to fund the construction of a new painting building to be paid in increments over eight years. The couple paid the first three installments of its donation, but still owe KCAI $4 million.
Lawrence Dodge said he and his wife were unable to honor their donation under the terms of the original contract because they suffered severely from the Great Recession. American Sterling, the bank he started and ran, was seized and sold to Metcalf Bank in 2009 and is still undergoing liquidation. The Dodges said they are also facing severe financial difficulties in their personal lives and are likely to lose their home in Monarch Beach, Calif.
“If a family has an economic crisis not caused of their own doing, they are basically throwing us under the bus,” Lawrence Dodge said. “It was kind of like a modern day tar and feather.”
He said the original contract did not leave any room for what would happen in the event the couple was unable to complete their donation, but he contacted the KCAI board of directors in 2008 and 2009 to renegotiate their original contract. “I called them and said we had the assets, but they weren’t liquid, but we’d work with them,” he said. “They said, let’s resolve it.”
Lawrence Dodge said the board voted down his revised contract, which would’ve extended the couple’s payment plan.
“The next thing I heard was the lawsuit,” he said.
Anne Canfield, vice president for communications at KCAI, wrote in an email that a California Superior Court of Orange County judge passed a ruling May 30 declaring that the Dodges will be required to pay KCAI $3.3 million, but the Dodges said they will more likely have to pay upwards of $4 million, including their own legal fees.
“The decision to proceed with a court action was not undertaken lightly, but our board concluded that it was necessary for KCAI to uphold its fiduciary responsibilities as a college and as a nonprofit organization,” Canfield wrote. Canfield wrote that KCAI informed the Dodges of the board’s legal action in a letter dated Aug. 11, 2011, but the couple maintains that they never received any word of the lawsuit until a process server knocked on their door several months later.
“I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been served,” Kristina Dodge said. “I feel very bullied by this organization.”
She said she offered to help KCAI find other donors to meet their promise in a timely manner, but she didn’t receive a response from the art institute.
“If that has really harmed you, let me help you,” she said of her offer to KCAI. “It’s all gone on deaf ears.”
She plans to put the deposition online once the lawsuit is finished and is working on writing a book about her family’s financial perils.
Canfield said she was uncertain whether or not KCAI has brought lawsuits against any of its other donors in the past.
“Fiscal accountability is of utmost importance to KCAI. In this particular case, seeking to enforce this pledge is necessary in order for us to be accountable to all our donors who so generously support us, as well as to the students we serve in fulfilling our educational mission,” she wrote.
The Dodges donated $20 million to Chapman in 2004 to fund Dodge College. Kristina Dodge remains a university trustee.
Neither Chancellor Daniele Struppa nor dean of Dodge College Bob Bassett elected to comment about the specific stipulations of the Dodges’ contract with Chapman or whether or not there was any trouble with their donation, but both expressed their concern over the KCAI lawsuit.
“Frankly, I am baffled as to why any organization would kick their donors when they are down. I imagine that would deter other donors who might consider supporting such an institution in the future,” Bassett wrote in an email. “Larry and Kristina Dodge are dear friends and the film school as we know it would not exist without their generous support.”
The Dodges are due back in court Dec. 13.