Saying that several substantial gifts are pending, the Commissioner of Higher Education on Friday urged the state Board of Regents to consider creating a foundation on behalf of the Montana University System.

While no such vehicle currently exists for donors looking to give to the MUS, Christian said interest among philanthropists remains and now was the time to establish a foundation on behalf of the system.

“There have been occasions in the past where we needed such a vehicle,” Christian said. “There’s been creative ways where we’ve handled some of those, but this is the most transparent and upfront way to do what we’re trying to do, to accept a systemwide gift.”

Christian said Gov. Steve Bullock is working with a private donor to “bring some money into higher education.” He didn’t name the donor or the funding in question, but said only that the giver wants it to be a systemwide gift.

“The governor doesn’t want to be in a position where he’s choosing which institution to give it to,” Christian said. “The benefactors are the students of Montana. If anything, we want to make sure this is as transparent as it can be.”

Christian said he’s asking the foundations at various schools to weigh in on the issue. He said those foundations, including the UM Foundation, would benefit from a statewide portal.

The money would pass through the statewide foundation and make its way to individual schools for issuance as scholarship awards.

“We’ve got a couple gifts I think will fit nicely in this,” Christian said. “This is about gifts that we’re not otherwise going to get. They wouldn’t be out beating the pavement looking for gifts.”

Regent Jeff Krauss of Bozeman, who doubles as that city’s mayor, cautioned regents about possible or perceived conflicts.

Separation between a nonprofit operated on behalf of the state by members of the same state board must be clear, he said.

“Narrowing or defining the purpose of the funds and the purpose you’re taking them for to reduce that noise of who they’re for,” he said. “Take as many conflicts off the table as you can. There are a number of things about this that worry me.”

Christian agreed, but said other university systems in other states have already created a statewide foundation to handle statewide gifts.

“There’s precedence around the country,” Christian said. “There’s always that perception of potential conflict, but I think we could put steps in place to manage that at a system level.”

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