Charlie Munger Gives Biggest Gift in the University of Michigan’s History

The University of Michigan is set to receive a $110 million gift of shares of stock from a philanthropist and investor based out of Los Angeles California. This is the largest donation in the school’s history. It is set aside for a graduate student residence hall. This will be a strong selling point as the school continues to compete for the best students looking to earn advanced degrees, we learn from officials at the University on Thursday.

On Thursday afternoon, the Board of Regents approved the generous donation from Charles Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway. If you don’t know, Charlie Munger is a billionaire investor in his own right, and he’s also Warren Buffett’s right-hand man. Munger is consulted on every major move that Berkshire Hathaway makes.

We also learn from university officials that the building is scheduled to open up in the fall of 2015. It’s main goal is to break down economic barriers and promote interaction at the University. Munger’s gift also includes $10 million worth of fellowships. They are to be offered to students of the university’s 19 colleges and schools in the Ann Arbor region. The fellows are to be among the 600 residents of the building set to reach eight stories high. It is going to be located centrally right on the campus.

In an interview with the Associated Press over the phone, Munger mentioned that he understands that such a large sum of money for a residence hall is probably not the highest priority of the majority of universities. They also mentioned that it’s not the normal route for philanthropy. But, the Michigan alumnus who is now 89 years old said it can help build on other ideas, which includes a large graduate student housing facility that he personally funded at Stanford University.

Munger also mentions that his main desire is to get graduate students working together on projects and exchanging ideas goes all the way back to his law school days at Harvard University. There were very little interactions between students of different fields. Munger is driven by the words of philosopher and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead, who spoke of “the fatal unconnectedness of academic disciplines.”

“It’s a pernicious evil. Fatal – I don’t think that’s too strong,” Munger said, who was able to study math at Michigan during the 1940s. “Specialization causes a lot of bad thinking.”

The apartments in the Michigan residence hall will showcase several study rooms and individual bedrooms with a private bathroom, a common dining hall, a big kitchen shared by all and communal living areas. Visiting faculty will be able to use some of the rooms. There will be gathering spaces throughout the eight floors, a commissary and also a fitness center. The fellows will also have their own gathering room.

The building will cost $185 million in total, and the University tells us that the balance of the cost will be paid by lease revenue.

This building is the latest investment in a series of large investments made by the University. It is there to help students choose the University of Michigan over some of the other Ivy League offerings and other schools of more prestige. During last month, it was announced by the University that Helen Zell, the billionaire real estate tycoon Sam Zell’s wife, plans on giving $50 million to support the graduate writing program of the acclaimed University.

“It could be a huge tool for universities to transform the way they recruit and train graduate students,” said Gene Tempel in regards to Charlie Munger’s gift. He is the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy’s founding dean.

It is also mentioned that there have been larger gifts to other universities in the United States, but there hasn’t been such a large donation for the purpose that Munger’s money will go to. Michigan’s project stands out quite a bit, even though improving interdisciplinary studies is a major goal throughout academia.

“Using the graduate students as a tool to help break down the silos – that in itself is a very innovative approach,” said Tempel.

Mary Sue Coleman, the president of the University of Michigan mentions in a statement that the majority of universities do not have a communal approach in the education of graduates, but Munger is “passionate about improving graduate student housing.”

In 1978, Charles Munger became the vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, an Omaha Nebraska Company. They currently own over 80 businesses.

Munger also tells us that the students are going to be responsible for connecting disciplines, and money or buildings will not have anything to do with it.

“Big goals with central planning have a lot of failure,” said Monger. “Modern graduate students are sensational people. You don’t have to drive them – all you have to do is enable them.”

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