Claremont McKenna gets huge donation

Times Staff Writer

In what is being described as the single largest donation to an American liberal arts college, Claremont McKenna College is announcing today a $200-million gift to establish a new master’s degree in finance and to fund scholarships for undergraduates who show leadership potential.

The donation is from Robert Day, a college alumnus and trustee who is founder and chairman of the Trust Co. of the West, an investment management firm headquartered in downtown Los Angeles. Forbes magazine recently estimated Day’s fortune at $1.6 billion and ranked him 297 in its listing of the 400 richest Americans.

His gift is unusual for its huge size in relation to the small college, which enrolls just 1,140 students and specializes in public policy and economics.


The gift, which has sparked some debate on campus, would create Claremont McKenna’s first graduate program, a one-year master’s for 50 students that would entail the hiring of eight professors. In addition, as many as 50 students from all five undergraduate schools at the Claremont Colleges consortium would be eligible for senior year grants requiring them to take courses in finance, accounting and leadership psychology.

Day said both programs, collectively called the Robert Day Scholars, would offer financial training to future leaders of business, government and nonprofits, with an emphasis on ethics. The goal is to create a cadre of young people “who show leadership and who have judgment, which is the hardest thing to find,” he said Wednesday.

Day, the grandson of Superior Oil Co. founder William M. Keck, said he decided not to fund a new building on campus.

“Everybody wants their name on a building,” but his goal instead was ongoing education, he said at his Figueroa Street office, which is decorated with photos of Day posing with presidents George W. Bush and Clinton and with a model of a 1950s oil rig his grandfather built in the Louisiana swamps.

Claremont McKenna President Pamela Gann expressed deep appreciation for the donation, saying the Day program would offer “the best possible curriculum, internships and leadership development for preparation to lead in a fast-changing world.”

However, the gift has triggered debate on the 50-acre campus in Claremont. Some professors, while recognizing the generosity, said they worried that the money could tilt the college too much toward economics and financial studies. A letter to Gann, drafted by literature department chairman Robert Faggen and signed by other literature professors, said they are concerned that the gift will “distort the college into a single focus trade school.”

Government professor Andrew Busch, who is an associate dean of faculty, said most people are grateful for the money and think it fits well with the college’s overall mission. Still, he added, “Any time you have a fairly small college and receive such a large gift, there are some questions about the parts of the college that don’t receive the gift and where this puts them.”

Gann said she expected those concerns to ease as the faculty learns that the program would recruit undergraduates from all the consortium colleges and that students could retain their majors, such as literature. “This program is only reinforcing, from our standpoint, our commitment to liberal arts,” she said.

The courses will appeal to some students who will never work in the business world, said Day. “Whether you become the great American painter or the great American writer, balancing the books and doing the rest of basic 101 accounting is valuable,” he said.

Day, who earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Claremont McKenna in 1965, said he owes a lot of his business achievements to his education there. “I’ve been very successful and want to put it back in the system,” he said.

Day long has been a major, if quiet, name in Southern California philanthropy. He oversees the W.M. Keck Foundation, a charitable organization with an estimated $1.5 billion in assets that has underwritten, among other things, the Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences at the Claremont Colleges and the Keck School of Medicine at USC.

He also is a force in Republican politics. He has been a donor and economics advisor to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He opened his Bel-Air home to a 2005 fundraiser, attended by President Bush, for the Republican National Committee.

In recent years, gifts to universities and colleges have hit stratospheric heights.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 17 American universities have received individual gifts of at least $200 million since 1994, and that does not include the $1 billion that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave in 1999 for minority student scholarships at many colleges.

The single largest gift to a U.S. college or university was the $600-million pledge to Caltech from Intel Corp. co-founder Gordon Moore, his wife, Betty, and their foundation in 2001, the Chronicle stated in a recent list.

The Day gift at Claremont McKenna would equal entertainment industry mogul David Geffen’s $200-million donation in 2002 to UCLA’s medical school, the largest single gift to the University of California.

It appears that Day’s gift will be unprecedented for a liberal arts college, according to officials at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

The Day funding will be in cash and marketable securities over a period of years but the donor and college officials declined to specify the time frame or how much the initial gift would be. Gann, however, said enough would be on hand to enroll the first 20 undergraduates next year and for the master’s program to start enrollment in the fall of 2009.

The college was founded in 1946 as Claremont Men’s College, became coeducational in 1976 and changed its name to Claremont McKenna College in 1981 in honor of its trustee and donor, Donald C. McKenna. It is an independently governed school but is part of the 6,200-student consortium that includes nearby Pomona, Scripps, Harvey Mudd and Pitzer colleges and two graduate institutions.

Times staff writer Molly Selvin contributed to this report.



Sizable donations

Seventeen other gifts of $200 million or more have been given to U.S. colleges and universities since 1994.

California Institute of Technology: from Gordon and Betty Moore and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, $600 million, consisting of $300 million over 5 years and $300 million over 10 years; cash and stock; 2001

Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering: from the F.W. Olin Foundation, $460 million to establish the college; cash; 1997

Columbia University: from John W. Kluge, $400 million; bequest; 2007

Stanford University: from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, $400 million; cash; 2001

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: from an anonymous donor, $360 million; nature of gift not disclosed; 2001

Massachusetts Institute of Technology: from Patrick J. and Lore Harp McGovern, estimated at $350 million over 20 years; cash; 2000

University of Arkansas at Fayetteville: from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation, $300 million; nature of gift not disclosed; 2002

Emory University: from the Lettie Pate Evans, Joseph B. Whitehead, and Robert W. Woodruff Foundations, $295 million; stock; 1996

Emory University: from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, $261.5 million; nature of gift not disclosed; 2006

Cornell University Weill Medical College: from Sanford I. and Joan Weill, $250 million; nature of gift not disclosed; 2007

New York University: from Sir Harold Acton, a 57-acre Italian estate, a collection of Renaissance art, and at least $25 million in cash; total value estimated by the university of at least $250 million and perhaps as much as $500 million; 1994

University of Colorado system: from William T. Coleman III and Claudia Coleman, $250 million; stock; 2001

University of Texas at Austin: from John A. (Jack) Jackson, $232 million; bequest; 2002

Ave Maria University: from Thomas S. Monaghan, $200 million to establish the university; cash and real estate; 2002

Columbia University: from Dawn M. Greene and the Jerome L. Greene Foundation, $200 million to establish a neuroscience center; nature of gift not disclosed; 2006

New York University: from the Leon Levy Foundation, $200 million to create an institute on the ancient world; cash; 2006

UCLA School of Medicine: from David Geffen, $200 million; nature of gift not disclosed; 2002

Source: Chronicle of Higher Education, from records to 1967.

Los Angeles Times