Bloomberg donates $350 million to Johns Hopkins for research, scholarships

Gift among largest ever; brings Bloomberg's philanthropy to university to more than $1 billion

January 26, 2013|By Scott Dance, The Baltimore Sun

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is donating $350 million to the Johns Hopkins University for student financial aid and research addressing "complex global challenges," one of the largest-ever gifts to a university, bringing Bloomberg's support of the Baltimore institution to more than $1.1 billion.

The gift will provide $100 million over 10 years for an estimated 2,600 undergraduate scholarships. The remaining $250 million will be invested $50 million at a time over five years into endowments supporting 50 new faculty members charged with interdisciplinary research and teaching.

Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels called the gift, which according to one list ties for the fifth-largest from an individual donor to a university, "spectacular," and "transformative." University leaders presented Bloomberg with a vision for a more collaborative model of research addressing challenges like environmental sustainability and urban revitalization in June, and the business magnate and politician was receptive, Daniels said.

"Words can simply not capture the incredible debt of gratitude that we owe to Mike and the amazing sense of fortune that we have in being able to claim him not merely as a graduate but as a graduate who so clearly understands us and has given so much of his time, his passion and his philanthropy," Daniels said in an interview. "We're just incredibly fortunate."

Hopkins officials announced the gift Saturday night. Bloomberg declined to be interviewed.

Bloomberg's history of philanthropy to the university dates back 48 years to 1965, when he donated $5 a year after graduating with a bachelor's degree in engineering. He made his first $1 million gift in 1984, creating a professorship in the humanities. Since then, gifts have added his family name to the university's public health school, physics and astronomy center and newly opened children's hospital.

His gifts have totaled $1.118 billion, something that university officials say makes him the only person to have ever given as much to a single U.S. institution of higher education.

The $350 million gift is among the largest single donations ever made to a university worldwide, according to a list of major philanthropic gifts maintained by the Chronicle of Higher Education. It ties as 10th-largest among all gifts, and ties as fifth when not counting gifts made by foundations. Two other Bloomberg gifts to Hopkins already appear on the list, which includes gifts of $50 million or more.

Bloomberg's previous largest single gift was $120 million to help build the university's $1.1 billion hospital that opened last year. The hospital's children's center bears the name of his mother, Charlotte R. Bloomberg, who died in 2011.

The gift helps advance a set of priorities and initiatives Hopkins leaders have been planning for two years, Daniels said. Faculty appointed to the newly endowed positions will be assigned to at least two departments within the university, acting as what Daniels called "human bridges" between various disciplines in which research may be tacking the same challenges in different ways.

For example, addressing environmental sustainability requires collaboration from engineers, economists, political scientists, philosophers and ethicists, among others, he said. Hopkins leaders explained the strategy to Bloomberg in seeking funding for the endowments.

"When we brought him this idea, I think it really resonated with him because it really dovetails with what he has stood for," Daniels said, citing Bloomberg's efforts to promote collaboration within New York City government departments and within his financial data services businesses. "It was clear from the get-go Mike was very excited by the way in which the university had developed the proposal."

The announcement came as a welcome surprise to research leaders at the university. Scott Zeger, vice provost for research who is leading an interdisciplinary initiative focused on individualized health care, said he and a group of more than a dozen faculty had been meeting weekly, plotting ways to boost their research. They planned to coordinate ongoing research in different disciplines and try to recruit more researchers, but the addition of endowed faculty dedicated to the mission moves the project forward more rapidly, he said.

"Health care depends increasingly on new ways of measuring and bringing new information to bear on decisions that we make for treating patients," Zeger said. "This interface of data science and biomedical science, there just aren't a lot of people in that space right now. This grant is going to enable us to hire individuals who are at the interface."

State Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat who is also director of reform initiatives for Hopkins' school of education, called the donation a "catalyst for Baltimore City, leading to greater innovation, advancement, and exploration."

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