UMich gets $200 million donation to buy nicer stuff, debt-weary students shrug

Robby Soave Reporter
Font Size:

The University of Michigan just received a $200 million donation.

The catch? It has to spend the money renovating its already opulent business school and athletic complex.

Billionaire real estate investor Stephen M. Ross earmarked his donation for these two specific projects. The business school — which already bears Ross’s name, thanks to a $100 million donation he made for renovations in 2004 — will undergo even more improvements, and the athletic department will build new facilities. The Board of Regents has plans to rechristen the athletic buildings “the Stephen M. Ross Athletic Campus.”

This latest donation is meant to “finish the job” he started in 2004, said Ross.

“I believe you give ’til it feels good,” he said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

U-M President Mary Sue Coleman and other administrators held a celebratory event in the business school on Wednesday. Ross attended, sharing more of his rationale for the donation. The business school reportedly approached him to ask for the money. The additional gift to the athletic department was Ross’s idea, according to The Michigan Daily.

“Athletics — just knowing the spirit and importance of athletics — led me to give my gifts to the Athletic Department, knowing how it helps the whole University,” said Ross.

Not all students were so thrilled.

“I find it strange this is being touted as a gift to all of us when the funding won’t address basic issues such as tuition inflation,” wrote Derek Magill, a U-M sophomore, in an email to The Daily Caller. “Education is not about the amount of pretty buildings we can put up.”

UM tuition rates increased 84 percent between 2000 and 2010 — three times faster than the rate of inflation. While this year’s tuition increase was the smallest in decades, the trend remains ever upward.

Administrators stressed that some of the money would go toward financial aid and support services for student athletes, although specific details on those matters have yet to be announced.

Magill stressed that he wasn’t against private donations, but that this one in particular seemed out of touch with the needs of struggling students at a public, taxpayer-funded university.

“He can donate his money however he likes,” said Magill. “I wish he had donated to something that would more immediately benefit the students, however — I don’t believe more ridiculously opulent facilities are necessary when tuition is already inflated and is expected to keep rising.”

The disparity between the high cost of attending college and amount of money universities are spending on facilities, research and administrative perks is attracting increased scrutiny. American students have accumulated over $1 trillion in collective student loan debt trying to pay for college. Meanwhile, administrators continue to bemoan the lack of funding from states even as universities undertake more and more expensive development projects and boost compensation for top executives.

Follow Robby on Twitter

Robby Soave