Converse College has received a transformative gift of $15 million in support of academic excellence. The gift comes from Susan “Susu” Phifer (class of 1965) and George Dean Johnson Jr., and is the second $15 million gift the Johnsons have given to Converse College in the last seven years. It marks the largest outright gift in the college’s history, as the previous $15 million was given in installments over a five-year period. The gift will build Converse’s endowment, bringing the college’s total funds under management to nearly $80 million.
A portion of the gift is designated to fund a faculty evaluation and compensation plan in support of academic excellence, and the remainder will be allocated to other areas within the College’s endowment, including scholarships. The gift aligns with the college’s five-year strategic plan, delivering on the plan’s promise to enhance the institution’s academic program.
Dr. Jeff Barker, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, collaborated with faculty members for 15 months to formulate a plan for faculty evaluation and compensation that raises the bar for academics at Converse. The Academic Excellence Endowment and Faculty Salary Improvement Plan were endorsed by faculty and the Board of Trustees last year, and since that time the college has been working to secure endowed funding. Converse raised $606,000 toward the endowment prior to the Johnson’s gift.
“Our goal is to secure and retain the best faculty so that academics at Converse are rigorous, thorough, and offer the best possible preparation for life and careers,” said Dr. Barker. “This gift is distinctive on a national level in higher education because it provides permanent substantial support to recognize and reward faculty excellence.”
Having served as a college faculty member early in her career, Susu Johnson gained firsthand understanding of the importance for an institution to dedicate a significant and continuous flow of resources for faculty excellence. “We have responded to a defined need of Converse College with this gift and are happy to be able to do so,” said Johnson, who is vice chairman of the Board of Trustees and chair of the college’s presidential search committee.
Converse’s eighth president, Nancy Oliver Gray, left Converse at the end of December to assume the presidency of Hollins University. During the eighth presidential search in 1998, the Johnsons’ pledged $15 million in the form of a challenge gift to jumpstart an $82.5 million capital campaign. By the time Gray joined the college, trustees and friends had responded to the challenge by pledging an additional $35 million.
The Johnsons’ gift is a remarkable testament to Nancy Gray’s legacy,” said Tom Hannah, chairman of the Converse Board of Trustees. “It ensures that the College will continue to move forward under new leadership with strength and vision in the academic enterprise.”