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Longevity, Loyalty, Results

When Spelman College hired Robert D. Flanigan Jr. in 1970, he figured he would seek opportunities elsewhere in about three years. After all, didn’t a mere assistant to the business manager have to leave in order to climb the career ladder?

 As it turns out, no.

Flanigan, who goes by “Danny,” has served as Spelman’s vice president for business and financial affairs since 1994. He has spent nearly 40 years at Spelman. Among other things, he helped grow an endowment that, despite taking hits during this economic downturn, remains one of the healthiest among historically Black institutions. Late last year, the endowment stood at $276 million.

When Spelman trustee Ted Aronson and his wife made a $5 million gift to the school in 2006, they requested that scholarships issued from that endowment bear the names of several individuals significant to Spelman — including Flanigan.

“The returns that Danny and his people have made on investments have changed the face of Spelman,” Aronson says. “Tuition would be much higher if not for those returns. The school has plenty of needs, but who cares if there’s air conditioning on campus if students can’t afford to go there?”

Aronson is among more than 40 investment fund managers involved in Spelman’s endowment and, according to Flanigan’s estimate, currently handles a 1 percent slice.

Flanigan jokes that every time he considered leaving Spelman for another school or for a position outside of academia, “I seemed to get promoted.”

He oversees 153 employees in areas such as facilities management and human resources. Dr. Beverly Tatum is the third consecutive president for whom he has served as a vice president. Flanigan says his loyalty “is to Spelman first, and the president’s program is our program” no matter who the president is.

Aronson calls Flanigan “a textbook illustration of institutional memory who wields power in the nicest of ways. He doesn’t rule by authority but by competence.”

Born and raised in Conyers, Ga., Flanigan holds an MBA from Emory University. He joined Spelman after an 18- month stint with the Arthur Andersen accounting giant. As an entry-level assistant at Spelman in 1970, his responsibilities varied from basic bookkeeping and field analysis to running errands for his superiors.

Flanigan has become an elder statesman in the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), which honored him in 1997 with its annual Distinguished Business Officer Award.

For nearly a decade at NACUBO’s annual conference, he has led roundtable discussions centered on minority issues. Over the years, the number of participants has grown from 10 people to well over 70 representing a wide spectrum of institutions. “At first, only people of color came to it, but that has expanded a lot.” Flanigan has noticed through these forums that small, financially strapped schools are increasingly facing the same types of problems as their large, wealthier counterparts, meaning minority- serving institutions “are now much more in the mainstream.”

“The challenges are the same among everyone in the room, whether it’s Harvard or a school of 500 students. It’s technology, it’s curriculum, it’s federal policies, it’s student needs.”

Back at Spelman, Flanigan regards his work as more of a passion than a job because “of the young women whose lives we enrich.”

“They leave here with so much sophistication, so much intelligence. It’s heart-warming to think that in some small way I had something to do with that.”

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