Hopkins hails top donor by renaming health school

Bloomberg has given more than $100 million

April 23, 2001|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

The Johns Hopkins University is to announce today that it is naming its School of Public Health after Michael R. Bloomberg, the largest donor in the history of the university.

"It's a nice thought," said Bloomberg, 59. "I'm pleased that my mother, who will be 92, is here to see it. That school does great work."

Bloomberg has designated $35 million of the more than $100 million he has given Hopkins for the School of Public Health, often a stepchild at fund-raising time.

"I always thought it made more sense to prevent disease than to cure it," Bloomberg said of his affection for the school. "Unfortunately, a lot of us don't focus on things like that because they don't have a lot of sex appeal. You don't get any points for preventing a disease or stopping its spread; you only get points when you cure it."

Bloomberg, who received an engineering degree from Hopkins in 1964, made his fortune -- estimated at more than $1 billion -- with a financial news company that bears his name. He is considering a run for mayor of New York City.

"Since Johns Hopkins himself, nobody has had a greater impact on this university than Michael Bloomberg," said William R. Brody, Hopkins president. "Michael is somebody who wants to make a difference. He supports things that otherwise might not get that type of support."

The Bloomberg School of Public Health becomes the third Hopkins school to have its name changed to reflect the generosity of a donor, after the Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and the G. W. C. Whiting School of Engineering. (The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies was named after one of that school's founders and the name of the Peabody Institute long predates its Hopkins affiliation.)

The name change has been in the works since Bloomberg made a $55 million gift in 1995, with $20 million designated for the School of Hygiene and Public Health. But Hopkins officials said Bloomberg did not want the change made because it might have detracted from Hopkins' fund-raising campaign, which ended last year with more than $1.5 billion. He also preferred not to put his name on the school while serving as chairman of the university's board of trustees.

But with just more than a year left in his term as chairman -- his successor will be named at next month's meeting -- he agreed to have the school carry his name.

"I didn't want it since my term has a year to go, but they suggested it, and I said, `OK, why not?'" he said.

Bloomberg's name is on a physics and astronomy building at the Homewood campus, named after he donated $5 million in 1988. A professorship in history of art is named after his mother, Charlotte, endowed with $1 million he gave in 1984 to honor her 75th birthday.

Alfred Sommer, dean of what is now the Bloomberg School of Public Health, said that shortly after he became dean in 1990, it was clear Bloomberg understood the school's importance.

"I don't know how he got it, but he got it right away," Sommer said. "I would be out with him socially and we would meet someone in a restaurant and he would introduce me by saying, `This is the dean of the only academic institution in the world that literally saves millions of lives a year.' I heard him say that dozens of times."

Sommer said that during his time as dean, the school's endowment has risen from $31 million to more than $140 million -- though still a relatively small part of Hopkins' total endowment, which is more than $1 billion. Sommer said that although Bloomberg gave his money to the school with no restrictions, most of it has stayed in the endowment.

"We were able to go ahead with building projects because we knew we had the money from Michael. But since we had that security, we impressed and stimulated other donors to come forward and take on those things," Sommer said.

"It really is the gift that keeps on giving, not only because it stays in the endowment and he periodically adds to it, but also because it gives the type of visibility to the institution that helps us attract other gifts we otherwise might not get," he said.

Bloomberg said he does not think he even knew the School of Public Health existed when he attended Hopkins.

"Of course, I didn't know there was a board of trustees or a chairman of the board then, either," he said. "It was really when I became a trustee that I started to realize the breadth of Hopkins, that what I thought of the school as an undergraduate is only one part of what they do.

Bloomberg said his interest in the school grew because of his relationship with Sommer. "He is a great proselytizer for the school and the work that it does. It is not unrealistic to say that Hopkins saves millions and millions of lives with the programs that come out of that school. It is a great shame you can't get more people to give money toward that kind of thing."

The addition of Bloomberg's name is not the only change in the school's name. The term "hygiene" is being dropped. Since it was founded in 1916, the school has been known as the School of Hygiene and Public Health. Sommer said that the name came from German Institutes of Hygiene that were the research arm of health facilities in the 19th century.

"I have spent 11 years as dean engaged in a discussion with the faculty about getting rid of the term `hygiene,'" Sommer said, adding that some faculty fear that losing that name will mean abandoning research.

"Certainly it has historical relevance, but I have yet to find any dictionary anywhere that says the word hygiene has anything to do with research," he said. "It means washing hands and flushing toilets."

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