Portland State received a $25 million donation aimed at improving sustainability programs Wednesday morning, the largest gift in university history. After a week of intense speculation and swirling rumors, PSU President Wim Wiewel accepted the grant from the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation at a press conference in the Simon Benson House.
Portland State received a $25 million donation aimed at improving sustainability programs Wednesday morning, the largest gift in university history.
After a week of intense speculation and swirling rumors, PSU President Wim Wiewel accepted the grant from the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation at a press conference in the Simon Benson House.
“We believe in Portland State and the city of Portland, and the importance of higher education in our state,” said Charles Putney, a member of the foundation’s board of directors. “We felt we could have a greater impact here than anywhere else.”
The gift, which Putney said was intended to be “a catalyst and a signal that PSU holds a special place in our state and our city,” is the largest in the foundation’s history. It brings the foundation’s total donation to PSU over the years to more than $30 million since 1998.
It is also more than triple the amount of the next largest gift in PSU history, an $8 million donation from Fariborz Maseeh in 2004 that helped build the Fariborz Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer science.
“The foundation’s goal is to help Portland State achieve its full potential, its next level of growth and visibility,” Wiewel said. “People expect great things from Portland State.”
The donation comes in the form of a challenge grant designed to raise $50 million, with the money disseminated over 10 years. Each year PSU will receive $2.5 million from the foundation, which it will have to raise funds to match.
“In order for this university to move forward, it must raise more money,” Putney said. “We’re hoping to stoke the fire a little bit.”
The university is asking for private support, stock gifts, corporate support, and foundation grants to help meet the annual $2.5 million requirement.
“This is more than a gift,” Wiewel said. “It’s a challenge to the university.”
Making sustainability a priority
The conditions of the donation state that the money may not be used for endowment or capital construction. Instead, the money must be used solely for sustainability programs.
The foundation’s interim executive director, Charles Rooks, said he considers the donation to be many kinds of grants: an educational grant, an urban development grant and an economic development grant.
“We saw it being win-win in so many different directions,” Rooks said.
Putney said the foundation would like to see new staff and new scholarships.
“We want to drive our investment down to the student level,” he said. “We’re avoiding bricks and mortar because we feel we can get more leverage. You have to get the benefit down to where it matters. Student achievement is terribly important.”
Wiewel said the university’s previous plans to create between seven and 10 new teaching positions in the area of sustainability will now be possible much more quickly.
“This will allow us to be very specific,” Wiewel said. “What do we think will allow us to gain us a competitive advantage? Starting next year, we will also have more scholarships and graduate assistantships available. That will really make a direct difference.”
Students can most likely expect more courses, certificate programs and degrees offered in the future, Wiewel added.
“To have this actually come through is wonderful,” he said. “Though I can take very little credit, I take it as a recognition that many people see Portland State as a place of great potential.”
In addition to Wiewel, many local politicians and educators view the grant as a sure sign of Portland State’s increased prominence and legitimacy as an educational institution.
“This is tremendous,” said Jim Francesconi, a vice president of the Oregon University System. “The size of the gift really moves Portland forward. Portland State’s time has come. This is proof of it. This is a fundamental statement-a belief in Portland State.”
Provost Roy Koch, who has worked with the foundation since January to bring the gift to the university, said it is one of the biggest events in PSU history.
“It really shows a lot of faith and trust in the institution,” Koch said. “It really is a public demonstration of both their faith that Portland State is doing a great job, but also how essential we are to the Portland metropolitan region.”