Major UConn donor demands return of $3 million

Freshman members of the football team leave The Burton Family Football Complex on the UConn campus Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011.
Freshman members of the football team leave The Burton Family Football Complex on the UConn campus Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011. Dana Jensen/The Day Buy Photo

Robert G. Burton wants UConn to give him his $3 million back.

Burton gave the money to the University of Connecticut to build the Burton Family Football Complex in Storrs. Now, citing disagreements with the school's athletic director and a desire to be consulted about the new football coach, he wants that donation returned and his family's name taken off the facility altogether.

Burton informed UConn Athletic Director Jeff Hathaway of his intentions via a six-page letter dated Jan. 19, a copy of which was obtained by The Day.

A printing industry executive who has lived in Greenwich for the last 30 years, Burton is the chairman, chief executive officer and managing member of Greenwich-based Burton Capital Management, LLC. He has given more than $7 million to the football program, including a "lead gift" of $2.5 million for construction of the football complex.

Burton also gave additional funds to pay for an audio system and artwork around the building, which includes coaches' offices, an academic resource center, locker room and dining hall.

"After we get our money back, you can take our name off the complex," wrote Burton, who also has a luxury box at Rentschler Field and who donated more than $1 million to endow two scholarships at the school.

Burton cited philosophical disagreements with Hathaway and his management style as reasons for his decision to end his involvement with UConn.

"The primary reason (former coach) Randy (Edsall) took another job is because he couldn't work with you," Burton wrote in the letter to Hathaway. "You are not qualified to be a Division I AD and I would have fired you a long time ago. You do not have the skills to manage and cultivate new donors."

According to the letter, Burton called Hathaway on Jan. 3 and asked to be "kept in the loop" with the hiring process for the next football coach. It was "the same process that (former Athletic Director) Lew Perkins had with me when Randy was hired."

Burton also wanted to "provide insight" about coaching candidates who he felt "would be a good fit."

Burton wrote that he didn't hear from Hathaway again until Jan. 13, when the process ended.

"I was not looking for veto power," Burton wrote. "Your lack of response on either of these requests tells me that you do not respect my point of view or value my opinion."

Burton wrote that he did not support the hiring of Paul Pasqualoni. Burton's son, Joe, played for Pasqualoni at Syracuse from 1997-2001. His son Michael played for Edsall in 1999.

The UConn Division of Athletics released a statement to The Day on Monday disputing Burton's version of events.

"Many people, including Mr. Burton, shared their ideas about potential candidates with us," it read in part. "UConn's donors represent a vital aspect of the university and we respect and appreciate their thoughts and views on various issues.

"In keeping with that, Jeffrey Hathaway did receive and acknowledge Mr. Burton's advice from the beginning of the search and shared with the Burton family the decision making process and the eventual choice. ...

"In the end, the decision was appropriately made by the university in the best interests of UConn and our football program. The Burton family has been exceptionally supportive of the University of Connecticut for many years. The University is grateful to the family, especially for the benefits they have provided to many of our students."

Burton's decision to cease all donations comes at a time of great challenge for the athletic department's fundraising efforts. Department sources said revenue from donors is down almost $9 million from five years ago.

Burton advised Hathaway that he and his family will "implement eight actions" effective immediately. Among the actions:

• The family will not pay for its $50,000-per-year luxury suite at Rentschler Field. "You already have many other empty boxes at Rentschler. My box will just join the list," Burton wrote.

• The family will not purchase an $8,000 advertisement on the inside cover of the football program.

• All remaining scholarship dollars, including "the current balance" earmarked for football, will be transferred to the business school.

• The family will stop its $20,000 annual donation for a summer coaching clinic and plans to make no future donations to UConn.

• The family, which used the UConn business school to help "train our first line managers" for its business, will use the Syracuse business school instead.

Attempts to reach Burton were unsuccessful.

Copies of the letter were sent to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, incoming president Susan Herbst and Lawrence D. McHugh, the chairman of the UConn Board of Trustees.

This 1997 photo shows Robert Burton in his Greenwich, Conn.  office.  Burton, a major benefactor to the University of Connecticut wants the school to return $3 million in donations and remove his family name from its football complex because he says he was shut out of discussions about the selection of a new football coach.
This 1997 photo shows Robert Burton in his Greenwich, Conn. office. Burton, a major benefactor to the University of Connecticut wants the school to return $3 million in donations and remove his family name from its football complex because he says he was shut out of discussions about the selection of a new football coach. Bob Luckey/Greenwich Time
The Burton Family Football Complex at the University of Connecticut.
The Burton Family Football Complex at the University of Connecticut. Suzanne Ouellette/The Day file photo Buy Photo
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