Nike Co-Founder Gives U of Oregon $500 Million

October 18, 2016

The University of Oregon on Tuesday announced that it would receive a $500 million gift from Phil Knight, Nike’s co-founder, and his wife, Penny. Oregon said the gift, which may be the largest ever received by a flagship public university, will be part of a $1 billion project to create a new science campus in Eugene. The largely donor-funded interdisciplinary campus will train scientists while also focusing on entrepreneurship and ties with business, said the university.

The new campus will consist of three new 70,000-square-foot buildings, a conceptual rendering of which appears at right.

“This is a seminal moment for the University of Oregon, an inflection point that will shape the trajectory of the university and this state for the next century and beyond,” Oregon’s president, Michael Schill, said in a written statement. “Thanks to this amazing and generous gift from Penny and Phil, we will aggressively recruit and hire talented new researchers to join our world-class faculty to amplify what we do best -- interdisciplinary scientific research.”

Schill said the Knights will now be the university’s largest academic donor. They had been the second largest. Phil Knight also has been a serious benefactor to Oregon’s football program. In 2014, USA Today reported that he had given more than $300 million to the university’s athletic department.

However, Knight has in the past spurned Oregon, his undergraduate alma mater. He is giving $400 million to Stanford University, where he earned an M.B.A., to support a scholarship program for graduate students.

In an interview, Schill said the Knights would not have given the new money if the university was still part of the now defunct Oregon University System, which the state dismantled in 2015. Independent governing boards now oversee the former system’s seven public universities.

The system played a “leveling” function across its various universities, Schill said, which would have complicated the university’s ambitious plans for the gift. “We never would have gotten this gift if we were part of the system,” he said.

In addition, Schill said the Knights wanted to see “stable leadership” at a university that has recently seen frequent turnover at the top.

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