A maize carpet lined the entrance to the Ross School of Business Wednesday morning. Just hours after the University announced the largest single donation in the school’s history, a celebratory event — including a performance by the Michigan Marching Band — welcomed Business students and administrators.
The event was held to thank philanthropist and real estate mogul Stephen Ross’s record-breaking $200-million donation, which will be split between his namesake school and the Athletic Department. Nearly 10 years after a $100-million donation to the business school that bears his name, Ross said the newest donation will “finish the job and do it right.”
Students packed the event, donning maize shirts that read “Welcome Home” with a quotation from Ross on the back: “You get by giving.” The crowd, which included many high-level University administrators, collected in the Business School atrium and heard speeches from Ross, University President Mary Sue Coleman, Business School Dean Alison Davis-Blake and Business graduate student Damian Chatman, president of the school’s student government association.
Ross, who is founder and chairman of the Related Companies and has a Forbes-estimated net worth of $4.4 billion, said while his first donation helped advance the Business School, the new gift will take it to new heights.
“It’s really exciting also to know that we can see this facility knowing that we can finish the rest of the campus and really make it the best business school in the country,” Ross said.
Coleman spoke to the audience before Ross, first joking about the timeliness of the announcement: “I think the first day of classes every year should start this way.”
Coleman said she was with Ross in 2004 when he announced his first $100-million donation, adding that she was thrilled the most recent donation happened during her term as president.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Ross said he was actively recruited by the Business School for the latest gift. Besides the extensive renovations to the “business campus,” the donation will also help provide financial aid and an expansion of career services. Separately, the $100-million gift to the Athletic Department will help fund a variety of programs for student-athletes and new construction projects.
“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,” Ross said.
When asked about his role as chair of the University’s soon-to-launch capital campaign, Ross said he hopes to help raise money for various realms of campus life.
“I hope we raise the funding that we need for scholarships, additional facilities, endowment of professorships and meet the future needs of the University,” Ross said.
The public event was followed by a more intimate one in the Colloquium Room of the Business School, which overlooks campus and much of Ann Arbor. Members of the media, a select group of students and the University’s top administrators gathered to hear additional remarks from Regent Katherine White, Coleman, Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon, Davis-Blake and Ross.
“We are delighted and grateful for alumni and donors like Stephen Ross, who understand so well that public universities increasingly rely on donor support to maintain and strengthen our excellence,” White said on behalf of the University’s Board of Regents. “We also know when the University of Michigan thrives, the state of Michigan thrives.”
In an e-mail interview after the event, White added that she was hopeful that Ross’s donation would spur other large donors to consider what they might be able to contribute to the upcoming campaign.
“I am very hopeful we can raise a lot of money for student scholarships,” White said. “It is so important the University of Michigan remain accessible to those whose talents gain them admission. The more we can do to ease their burden, the more they will be able to thrive while they are here and after they graduate.”
While there are no formal construction plans yet, Brandon emphasized the importance of the gift in building new, state-of-the-art facilities for Michigan athletes. The donation will also help provide student-athletes with better academic resources for success off the field as well.
“There are hundreds and hundreds of athletic directors waking up all over America today, and I can assure you I’m the happiest one,” Brandon said. “This important investment will also provide them with the tools they will need to be successful in their lives after athletics.”
A pre-recorded video message from Republican Gov. Rick Snyder was also played for attendees in which he thanked Ross for his generous donation and support for the state of Michigan. He also quipped that Michigan graduates like himself and Ross go on to achieve some “moderate success.”
In an interview after the event, Coleman said there were many discussions among herself, Ross, Davis-Blake, Brandon and Jerry May, vice president for development, to ensure that the donation fulfilled Ross’s vision.
Part of that vision, Coleman added, was to ensure that Business undergraduate students in would have the same experience and resources available to them as the graduate students.
“He wanted to have this whole dynamic of career services, making sure that we provide the best opportunities for our students,” Coleman said. “These discussions take a while, but at the end of the day we feel fabulous about the outcome.”
Davis-Blake told the audience that the donation will further innovate the Business School’s campus.
“This historic gift is a testament to that and will further transform the Ross School into a true business campus,” Davis-Blake said.
Tim Slottow, the University’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, said Ross’s donation set the bar for the upcoming capital campaign, which will focus on endowing scholarships and financial aid for both in-state and out-of-state students with demonstrated need. He added that philanthropy is key to the University’s sustainablity.
“Having the chair of the campaign set a $200-million starting point for the campaign is huge,” Slottow said.
After the event, Business School spokeswoman Tamra Talmadge-Anderson saidthe donation will keep the Business School among the top in the country.
“We will be truly the business school of the future, not only because we will have these facilities, but they will match our best-in-class programs,” Talmadge-Anderson said.
In an interview after his speech, Chatman said Ross’s philanthropic efforts inspire him to give back.
“Being part of this University, part of this school, this gift is something that us as students shouldn’t take lightly and shouldn’t take for granted and should appreciate and support Mr. Ross,” Chatman said.