Billionaire Boycotts Cleveland Charities Over University's Management - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

Billionaire Boycotts Cleveland Charities Over University's Management

CLEVELAND (AP) - Billionaire philanthropist Peter B. Lewis, former president of insurer Progressive Corp., has stopped charitable contributions in Cleveland, saying he is unhappy with a university's board and management.

In an interview with The Plain Dealer, Lewis said Case Western Reserve University is poorly managed and lacks a national academic stature.

Lewis, who stepped down two years ago as president and CEO of Progressive, told the newspaper that Case Western Reserve is "a diseased university that is collapsing and sucking Cleveland into a hole with it."

He said his disenchantment with the private university grew out of the "imcompetent, irresponsible, inattentive administration" of a new building for the Weatherhead School of Management. Lewis contributed $36 million for the new building, which will be named after him.

Lewis said the university allowed the cost of building to mushroom from the $25 million he was told it would cost to $61.7 million. He said management of the project is symptomatic of everything he sees wrong at the university.

To make his point and to push for change, Lewis said he isn't giving money to local organizations such as the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Institute of Art and the Jewish Community Federation.

Lewis, 69, said when he's solicited for contributions he responds with a letter explaining he won't make contributions until there is a "dramatic reduction in the numbers of CWRU trustees and a significant increase in individual trustee commitment to and support of the university."

The letter said Lewis wants to "affect enough peoples' favorite charity so sufficient pressure is brought to bear on individual CWRU trustees to cause them to advocate and support board changes."

Lewis told the newspaper he wants to get a new board of trustees at Case Western Reserve.

Charles Bolton, chairman of Case Western Reserve's board of trustees, wasn't available for comment, said university spokeswoman Laura Massie, who said the board has 46 members.

Lewis had dinner Tuesday night with Edward Hundert, who will become president of Case Western Reserve on Aug. 1. Lewis said that he was impressed with Hundert but feels "he doesn't have a prayer, because of the board."

Hundert said in a statement Thursday that the board is involved in a detailed evaluation of itself.

"I have total confidence in the board and the process," he said. "I have had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Lewis about this process. I anticipate he will applaud improvements resulting from this review."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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