By BMIA.com Staff
Last month broadcaster Tavis Smiley ended his relationship with Wells Fargo Bank. This month Smiley and Texas Southern University (TSU) ended their relationship last Friday when the university’s governing board agreed to strip Smiley’s name from its communication school. This action was the final decision in a long-simmering feud. In 2004, Smiley promised to donate $1 million dollars and to raise another $1 million for TSU. Shortly, thereafter the school later created the Tavis Smiley School of Communication in his honor.
Smiley reportedly in return, made one $50,000 donation in mid-2005 and raised $250,000 from three corporate donors. Smiley said Friday he had intended to fulfill his personal pledge. “Any institution that turns away a $1 million gift in this economy, I think ought to have good reason for doing that,” he said in a telephone interview.
TSU President John Rudley said the dispute had been going on since he arrived on campus in early 2008. Communication between both parties reportedly broke down last month after more than a year of negotiations.
“Because you did not fulfill your original commitment to our partnership, TSU plans to treat the partnership as being at an end,” Rudley wrote in a letter dated Sept. 28. “TSU will therefore remove your name from the School of Communication and the KTSU Radio facility to allow us to provide other major donors with the naming opportunity.”
Smiley promptly responded in an e-mail to Rudley. “I understand your letter to say that you don’t want that gift,” he wrote. “I … will continue with my benevolence where it’s appreciated.”
Smiley has a PBS program that is broadcast in many markets around the country.
Last summer, Smiley informed TSU he was changing the terms of the agreement.
His business manager, Kenneth Goldman, wrote that Smiley wanted to pay $50,000 by the end of 2009 and $100,000 a year for the next nine years.
He no longer would try to raise money from outside donors.
TSU’s well-publicized problems made it impossible to raise money from corporate donors, Smiley said Friday. “And obviously, not unlike most Americans, my personal income has been impacted by this recession.”
Still, he said, he intended to honor his commitment, even if it would take a decade to do so. Now, he said he will donate that money elsewhere.
Rudley, said of Smiley,”He had his reasons for what he was doing.” Rudley futher acknowledged that the university still likes Smiley but noted that it was time to move on.
Last month Smiley publicly severed all ties to Wells Fargo Bank in the wake of criticism that the bank targeted African American borrowers for subprime mortgages by using trusted black speakers to steer victims to a series of day-long “Wealth Building” seminars in black neighborhoods.
In the seminars, Smiley praised Wells Fargo and encouraged attendees to seriously consider real estate investments. Wells Fargo was a sponsor of Smiley’s radio show on Public Radio International, and underwrote the annual C-Span-televised “State of the Black Union” conference that Smiley organizes.
Is the shine coming off of Tavis Smiley’s public persona? Is Tavis the real deal? A profiteering phony? Or something in between?
What do you think? Share your thoughts below in our “Comments” section.
Sources: Houston Chronicle and KHOU (Channel 11)