PITTSBURGH – Carnegie Mellon University has received a huge new pledge to expand its programs.
The $265 million gift from former steel executive William S. Dietrich II is one of the largest in recent years from an individual to a private university, and the largest in the school's history, officials told The Associated Press.
The recession has impacted charitable giving, and the Dietrich pledge may be part of a resurgence. Last week the University of Southern California announced a $6 billion capital campaign. The Dietrich pledge also brought Carnegie Mellon close to meeting its $1 billion campaign.
The pledge also marks another chapter in Pittsburgh's transition from steel to tech. Dietrich is the former chairman of Dietrich Industries Inc., a supplier of steel building materials. Carnegie Mellon was founded as a technical school in 1900 by steel king Andrew Carnegie, but in recent years it has become known for world-class programs in computer science, robotics and the arts.
Some other recent large gifts to private schools include $400 million to Columbia University in 2007, $300 million to the University of Chicago in 2008, and $136 million to Tufts University in 2008. Experts note that it's hard to compare such gifts, since specific terms are often kept private, and some gifts are spread out over time.
Dietrich said in a statement that after serving as a Carnegie Mellon trustee, he felt the school "is an important driver of the future success of this region and its citizens."
But the pledge also has bigger goals.
"It is one of a handful of universities in the world that has the potential to become a truly global institution," Dietrich said. "All of this makes Carnegie Mellon a great investment."
The school currently has about 6,000 undergraduates, 5,500 graduate students, and a nearly 1,400-member faculty. It also has campuses in Silicon Valley and Qatar.
The new gift could spur growth, but it's not clear how soon. The gift will begin when Dietrich, 73, dies, and will be administered by a foundation, the school said. The specific nature of the gift — stocks, cash or both — wasn't disclosed.
Carnegie Mellon President Jared Cohon said the gift is unrestricted, but he noted the school's historic support for technology and the arts. In addition to faculty and alumni who've won 18 Nobel prizes, the school mentions ties to winners of 94 Emmy Awards, six Academy Awards, and 12 Tony Awards.
"Those tend to be quite different worlds, attracting different people," Cohon said of science and the arts. "Here, there's an awful lot of interaction. Technology influences every aspect of life, including the creation of art. We can expect to see more and more interaction between the two."
Ronald Ehrenberg, director of the Cornell University Higher Education Research Institute, said the recession has made it tougher for schools to land big donations.
"One major problem with the financial collapse is that funding for capital projects — buildings — has dried up," he said. "Many universities either had to go into debt or aborted their plans."
But that means schools that get such gifts may be in an especially good position.
"This is actually a good climate to expand in, if you can get the resources. Because the financial pressures are making this a buyer's market for faculty," Ehrenberg said.
Dietrich, a Pittsburgh native, was born into one of the city's elite families in 1938.
A former U.S. Marine, Dietrich has been an active supporter of business and the arts in western Pennsylvania, serving on the boards of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Pittsburgh Symphony Society and the University of Pittsburgh.
But Dietrich, who holds a bachelor's degree from Princeton University and masters and doctoral degrees from the University of Pittsburgh, didn't choose his alma maters for the gift.
In response to the donation, Carnegie Mellon's College of Humanities and Social Sciences will be named the Marianna Brown Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences after Dietrich's mother. John Lehoczky, dean of the college, said the donation will help support programs such as psychology, creative writing and the history of technology.
Associated Press writer Justin Pope in Ann Arbor, Mich., contributed to this report.