College announces largest gift in institution history

by Sean Connolly | 4/9/14 6:24pm

Dartmouth has received a $100 million anonymous donation to forward the College’s academic offerings, College President Phil Hanlon announced Wednesday. The gift, the largest single outright donation in College history, includes a matching mechanism that could double its amount to $200 million through the end of 2015, senior vice president of advancement Bob Lasher ’88 said.

“This historic gift is an extraordinary vote of confidence as we embark on an exciting journey to ensure Dartmouth remains the preeminent undergraduate institution in the nation; a magnet for human talent; and a college that cultivates a culture of ideas, discovery and solutions to problems that will make the world a better place,” Hanlon said in a press release.

The $100 million gift will be divided into two portions of $50 million each. One will support future academic initiatives, and the second will endow cross-disciplinary programs.

The gift stipulates that the first $50 million, intended to “strengthen Dartmouth’s academic excellence,” will be left to Hanlon’s discretion to distribute, Lasher said.

In an interview, Hanlon called the gift’s breadth unusual, as large monetary gifts often go toward specific projects.

The stipulation is intentionally broad, Dean of the Faculty Michael Mastanduno said. The College and Hanlon will have more flexibility in allocating funding than with any other donation in recent memory.

“That’s the astounding generosity of the gift,” Mastanduno said.

The additional $50 million will support the College's faculty cluster initiative, Lasher said. The initiative, open to undergraduate and graduate faculty members, plans to group professors from different disciplines or schools who are interested in addressing an area of inquiry not already covered by the College.

“We very much hope that cluster teams will represent different disciplines in different schools,” Lasher said. He said that the program would create “unusual combinations of disciplines.”

For a cluster proposal to receive funding through the endowment, the College will have to raise $2 from additional donors for every $1 from the gift.

If a proposal were to cost $30 million, then $20 million would have to be raised in order to receive $10 million from the endowment, Lasher said. This two-to-one mechanism is intended to ensure stability in funding for the clusters.

“The endowment provides a foundation for the income which supports the activity of the cluster,” he said.

The Office of the Provost received 29 proposals to the program involving over 100 total faculty members. Proposals were due March 28.

Several faculty members, speaking before Wednesday’s announcement, expressed their support for the cluster initiative. Ron Shaiko, associate director of curricular programs at the Rockefeller Center, said that while the initiative was in its early stages, it had the potential to bring departments together.

“I think [the initiative] could drive the way we fund faculty research,” Shaiko said. “We try to nudge people towards more collaborative work.”

Biology professor Lee Witters said the donation represented a significant opportunity for the College in terms of interdisciplinary research, but he added that he was personally uncertain about the effects that research-driven hiring would have on undergraduate teaching.

The family wishes to remain anonymous, Lasher said, declining to answer questions regarding when the administration was approached with the offer.

“This is a family that has been profoundly influenced in their own education by Dartmouth,” he said.

Mastanduno said this gift represents a significant departure from past donations, which have tended to focus on capital infrastructure.

“This isn’t about bricks and mortar,” he said. “It’s about the core academic mission of Dartmouth.”