College fills two VP positions

by Beacon Staff • March 5, 2008

"I'm trying to overcome that handicap," the college's new Vice President for Institutional Advancement said.,Motioning toward the Derek Jeter bobble-head doll on a shelf in his office, New Yorker Robert Ashton admitted there were a few things he had to alter about his life since his move to Boston.

"I'm trying to overcome that handicap," the college's new Vice President for Institutional Advancement said. "It's going to be much harder now that Joe Torre's gone."

Ashton, who started his job at Emerson on Dec. 3, is in charge of raising money for the college. Alumni relations, he said, is one of the best sources of funding and he believes Emerson's alumni network to be stronger than any he's seen at other colleges.

He credits this to annual fund raising events with alumni and their powerful sense of loyalty to the college.

A father of four and grandfather of three, the graduate of Syracuse University majored in broadcast journalism and began his career in the same field, but didn't stick with it for very long.

"I decided what I wanted to do was go out and do stuff that would change the world, not report on other people doing it," he said.

Once Ashton decided journalism wasn't for him, he became active in college fund raising. Thirty years later, he's still in the business.

He has worked as vice president of academic funding for institutions such as SUNY Albany, Sarah Lawrence College and NYU School of Business.

One of Ashton's longterm goals is to accumulate more funds for scholarships, a recent project he has been working on with 1968 Emerson grad Rob Sands.

Sands, who is currently retired after spending a career in alternative news and running a gay news service in Canada, will be contributing an unspecified amount towards a scholarship for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual students.

Money for scholarships generally comes from the major gift program in which businesses give anywhere from $500,000 to $5 million, which go into Emerson's endowment.

These gifts are often restricted, according to Ashton, depending on what the donor wants the money to be used for. Teachers' salaries and scholarships are the most common way to spend the donated money.

According to Emerson's Web site, the college's current endowment is $90 million. To compare, Suffolk University's is roughly $80 million. Some colleges and universities have endowments of well over $1 billion, such as Harvard and Yale, according to a Jan. 24 Boston Globe article.

Gifts that are given as outright scholarships add to the money already allocated for financial aid.

Within the donated money is a portion set aside specifically for scholarships, Ashton said.

When the money is put towards the endowment, its purpose is to increase the number and size of endowed scholarships.

"We're always looking for more scholarship money," Ashton said. "We also look for funds to go towards faculty salaries, academic programs and buildings."

Currently, Ashton's attention is turned towards raising the final amount of cash needed for the construction of the new Paramount Center on Washington Street, which is set to open in 2009.

Most of the construction is being paid for by bonds, but the project will also receive money from gifts.

From April to Dec. 2007, Donald Main filled in as acting vice president. From 2005 to 2006 Sherri Mylott held the position.

College President Jacqueline Liebergott said she was enthusiastic about having Ashton as a new vice president.

"He's a very experienced senior developer and has a good perspective on what we need for this school," she said. "I'm thrilled to have him working here."

For the first three months on the job, the recovering Yankee fan has been getting situated and comfortable with the Emerson atmosphere.

He said he hasn't raised much money for the college yet, because getting and securing a gift from an individual or business can often take two to three years. Nevertheless, Ashton said he remains positive and eager to get started.

"Emerson is such a fabulous school. The facilities you have here are amazing," he said. "I wish I'd known about it when I was in school. I would've come here in a minute."