UM business school gets $15 million gift Donation by builder of Crystal City is one of school's two largest

March 31, 1998|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

The University of Maryland, College Park received one of the two largest gifts in its history yesterday from a proud alumnus who predicted his alma mater would soon be taking its place alongside the best in the nation.

College Park President William E. Kirwan immediately announced that the university's business school would be renamed for Robert H. Smith, a 69-year-old real estate magnate and civic leader best known for developing Crystal City in Alexandria, Va.

Kirwan said the $15 million gift carries importance beyond its giver's "extraordinary" generosity because it could mark the beginning of a new public-private partnership committed to making College Park the state's "flagship" campus.

"Great universities need benefactors whose enlightened philanthropy provides the margin for excellence," he said. "Philanthropy that makes the difference between the good and the truly distinguished."

Smith's gift moved the university over the $150 million mark as it seeks to raise a total of $350 million by the year 2002.

It matches a 1994 gift from A. James Clark, a builder. But university officials noted that Clark's gift includes a bequest not yet received while Smith's is to be paid out over a set number of years.

Declaring himself honored to serve as a catalyst in the quest for excellence and national status, Smith, a 1950 graduate of the business school, predicted his money would help to produce a "steady flow of ideas, research and creativity."

"Ideas are like the stars," Smith said. "We never reach them, but like the mariners on the sea we chart our course by them."

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who attended the Annapolis ceremony at which the grant was announced, said he had agreed to seek an additional $6 million in state funds next year to add a new wing at Van Munching Hall, where the business school is located.

In recent weeks, Maryland's burgeoning economy has permitted Glendening to begin catching up on the state's 1988 commitment to make College Park the pre-eminent campus in its statewide system. He recently proposed an additional $7 million for the campus in a supplemental budget. The new spending will almost certainly be approved by the General Assembly.

Smith said he had been contemplating such a gift for about six months but accelerated his planning when he learned that Kirwan was leaving Maryland this summer to become president of Ohio State University.

Immediately after his surprise decision to leave College Park, Kirwan said that he wondered if Maryland had the commitment to reach its potential for high national ranking -- but yesterday he said Smith's gift had erased those doubts.

Kirwan's parting remarks apparently sparked considerable determination among promoters of College Park's advancement, particularly in its relatively new Board of Visitors, a 32-member panel of business and community leaders. Among other things, the board wrote Glendening a letter, pointing out that College Park lagged behind universities of similar size and aspiration by about $2,300 per student in state financial support.

Kirwan, Smith and others praised Glendening, who taught at College Park for 27 years before being elected governor, for his commitment to the university -- and the governor echoed their call for partnership.

"Bob [Smith]'s donation underscores how vital it is that the state and the business community work together to meet our mutual needs," Kirwan said.

Smith said he was delighted "that the timing allows me to meaningfully express my appreciation for all he [Kirwan] has done for my alma mater." He said he has insisted that the money be used for human resources -- the best available teachers.

Where the gift goes

The gift will establish an endowment fund whose proceeds will be used as follows: $7.5 million to create three endowed chairs; $1 million for five endowed research professorships; $3.5 million for graduate student scholarships and a Graduate Career Management Center; and a $3 million Dean's Fund for Excellence, which would provide support for new initiatives and continuing programs.

"I did not want it to be used for bricks and mortar," Smith said.

A university press release said the money would enable the school to attract "a cadre of world-renowned scholars to extend the expertise and diversity of the faculty -- and position the school to compete for top students across the country."

"Mr. Smith's gift will touch each and every part of the school," said Howard Frank, the business school dean.

Smith is co-chief executive officer and co-chairman of the board of Charles E. Smith Residential Realty, Inc., a publicly traded real estate investment trust. He serves in a similar capacity for the Charles E. Smith Commercial Realty, an affiliate company which specializes in the management of over 103 office buildings.

He has been an active supporter of the arts, serving on the board of trustees of the National Gallery of Art and the National Portrait Gallery.

He has also served on the board of directors of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Earlier, he gave to establish a Jewish studies program at College Park.

Big donations

Other top gifts to the University of Maryland, College Park:

$15 million, including a bequest, from A. James Clark, 1994

$7.5 million from Leo Van Munching Jr., 1993

$7 million from Michael Dingman, 1989

$9 million, anonymous, 1997

$7 million, anonymous. 1997

$3 million from William E. Mayer, 1989

Pub Date: 3/31/98

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