Two prominent alumni and long-time University of Maryland benefactors announced yesterday donations of $30 million each to the schools that bear their names, doubling their own previous records with what officials say are the single largest donations to a Maryland state institution.
University of Maryland President C.D. Mote Jr. called the combined $60 million in gifts from well-known developer Robert H. Smith and general contractor A. James Clark the "most historic moment" since the university's founding.
"We are blessed to have two [alumni] with a lifelong commitment to creating our future," said Mote. "They believe in the necessity of building the highest-quality university."
The announcement came at a packed news conference in Annapolis attended by university trustees, alumni and lawmakers, including Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.
Smith and Clark are 1950 university graduates, members of the University of Maryland College Park Foundation and co-chairs of a new fund-raising effort that will go public in the fall of 2006 and has raised more than $100 million with yesterday's announced donations.
Officials say the two were chosen to lead this latest fund-raising campaign because they historically have been the university's strongest supporters.
New level of giving
"One of their roles is to sort of set the pace for others," said Terry Flannery, assistant vice-president for marketing and communications. "So I think they agreed together that they wanted to give a gift at this level. It really ratcheted up their generous giving in the past to a level that we've never seen."
A $15 million gift from Clark in 1994 resulted in the university renaming its engineering school the A. James Clark School of Engineering.
Smith followed with a $15 million donation in 1998, for which the Robert H. Smith School of Business is named. A year later his wife, Clarice, an artist, donated $15 million for construction of the university's new performing arts center, subsequently named the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.
Clark's $30 million donation will be used for scholarships for engineering students. He said that the university especially needs to attract more women and minorities.
Smith's donation will be used for student, faculty and academic programs at the business school and performing arts center.
At yesterday's announcement, both men briefly chronicled their own rise from humble beginnings.
Smith's parents fled persecution in Russia, landing in the United States to create a better life and educate their children. Clark himself is a beneficiary of a scholarship to the University of Maryland, which he entered in 1945 while a student still living at home and occasionally hitchhiking to school.
Today, Smith is chairman of Charles E. Smith Residential and Charles E. Smith Commercial Realty, both real estate investment trusts, and a force behind the development of Crystal City, a huge Arlington, Va., development with 43 high-rise buildings.
Clark is chairman and chief executive of Clark Enterprises Inc. in Bethesda, which includes Clark Construction Group, a company that has managed the construction of several high-profile projects, including Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the Washington Convention Center.
"Why have I chosen to support the University of Maryland as one of my highest priorities?" said Smith, who lives in Arlington. "My education at the University of Maryland gave me the tools and motivation to maximize whatever abilities I have."
`Setting new standards'
"The University of Maryland is setting new standards," he added. "I want this university to be excellent and lead the way in many areas with a clear vision of the future."
Clark echoed those comments, noting that his construction company has built 25 buildings on the university's campus, through the competitive bidding process.
"What I've seen in the past, and what we're seeing today, is an unbelievable transformation," said Clark, who lives in Easton. "I am hopeful that today Jim and I can motivate support from others."
Lawmakers applauded the donations, hailing them as another sign of the university's rising profile.
"I think it's fantastic. It's what we've been asking the colleges to do, to go out and get donations," said state Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, a Montgomery County Democrat who is vice-chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee. "Now it's time for the state to step up to the plate."
Mote thanked lawmakers and Ehrlich for supporting the university system, highlighting increases in the governor's fiscal 2006 spending proposal, as well as increases in need-based aid.
`A defining moment'
Ehrlich called the donations "incredible" gifts given by two "terrific men."
"It is a defining moment," he said. "It is serious money." He added that "the university's on a roll. ... My job, our job as the leadership, is to continue that roll."