The late Dr. Bill and Janie Dukes have given, through their estate, more than $29 million to the College of Business – the largest single academic gift in ACU’s history.

Written by special contributor Lance Fleming


The lifeblood of any university – and individual colleges within the university – are donors. Alumni and friends of the university who generously give back to the place that has made a mark on their lives to enrich the next generation of leaders.


Abilene Christian University is no different. It was the hard work of the university’s founder and first president. A.B. Barret, who got Childers Classical Institute off the ground. He pounded the dirt roads of West Texas via horse and buggy in the winter and spring of 1906, raising money for his vision of a Christian university. He secured gifts from 195 individuals around Abilene for a grand total of $3,500. Not bad, considering that would now be worth more than $115,000 in 2022 money.


Those generous donors provided for expansion from Childers Classical Institute when it opened in 1906 to the current robust university. Childers started with 25 students in a single building. Today, the university serves more than 5,000 students and offers 79 undergraduate degree programs and more than 160 fields of study in numerous disciplines.


Every gift and every donor made a difference and helped Barret’s idea of a Christian university in Abilene become a reality. As ACU president Dr.  Phil Schubert (’91) wrote in the case study for the university’s current capital campaign, Higher Ground, “I believe Barret, who was certainly a man with great vision, would have had difficulty imaging the national university ACU is today.”


Dr. Brad Crisp, the Dean of the College of Business Administration, has seen first-hand the impact donors make on campus and a specific college. 


Ann Griggs Berger with accounting professor Dr. Clint Buck at the Ruth Allen Griggs Honor Luncheon.

“Simply put, donors make it all possible,” he said. “At the beginning of my time as dean, I remember a particular week when COBA received gifts from three women who had recently lost a loved one, a husband or a father. Because all three contributions came in the same week, it was hard for me to miss the impact that ACU and COBA had on each of those families. 


“I realized that the gifts we receive often flow from experiences and relationships from a long time ago, rather than fundraising being something that drives donors now,” Crisp said. “People often assume that asking for money is scary or off-putting, but I find it’s an honor to talk with people about their passions. I like to find out what motivates them to give, and to help them find opportunities to support the students, faculty, staff, and alumni that mean so much to them.”


And now the university’s Higher Ground campaign is once again calling on those people and other friends of the university to push ACU to new heights in its second century of educating students for Christian service and leadership throughout the world. The $250 million campaign is, by far, the largest fundraising initiative ever undertaken by the university. It will transform the university in ways that Barret could never have foreseen.


The university has designated $118 million to “Enhance and Increase Transformational Experiences” and the other $132 million to “Strengthen and Elevate ACU’s Academic Profile.” COBA and the building it has called home for more than 35 years – the Mabee Business Building – are part of the Higher Ground campaign. 


The new Swinney Financial Markets Lab gives students interested in careers in finance a state of the art classroom experience.

Preparing the next generation of students in COBA for the needs and technological advancements in the workforce was at the forefront of the renovations the building has undergone. Students and staff returned for the start of the 2022-23 school year to an updated classroom wing and reimagined learning spaces for students. A more advanced and visible finance lab will provide students with industry tools to practice real-life trading with faculty mentors at their sides, and an upgraded digital experience lab will add more room for this growing technology program.


But it’s not just giving to the physical brick-and-mortar spaces that make a difference in the lives of ACU students. Donors give to scholarship funds, helping attract more students to the university and, in particular, COBA, thanks to the Nicholson-Upp Endowed Scholarship, among others. Donors also provide their time and expertise to return to campus and share their knowledge with the next generation of business leaders.


“Donations come in many forms, and we would not be able to provide the professors, the facilities, or the transformative experiences without them,” said COBA Assistant Dean Tim Johnston. “We are fortunate that our alumni are generous people. Their generosity of time is also critical to our success. Alumni return to campus and share insights that help set students on a different career trajectory. Our alums help students understand what it takes to break into various career fields.


Members of COBA’s Visiting Committee network with students.

“The day-to-day performance of our alumni provides us with a great reputation of excellent workers who are a pleasure to work with,” Johnston said. “That opens the doors to exciting employment opportunities for our graduates.”


Jane Clark – Enrollment and Student Success Manager at COBA – said that connection is powerful in shedding light on how donors make a difference in the lives of students, faculty, and staff.


“The COBA difference at ACU is built on the foundation of strong connections,” Clark said. “Connections among our students, staff, faculty, and alumni. With the generosity of our alumni comes the strengthening of those relationships on our campus through fellowship, experiences, and opportunities. A student comes to ACU seeking a business or technology degree, but they graduate with so much more. We want to inspire, equip, and connect Christian business and technology professionals … with the vision and service of our students past, present, and future. That is so much more than an ACU COBA degree; it is the building of a legacy.”


It’s part of a legacy that began with A.B. Barret’s dream in 1906, a legacy that lives on today in all that exists thanks to the people who have believed in that dream.