BREAKING NEWS: Gates foundation gives Duke $35M

The University's science and student life initiatives took a $35 million leap forward with a gift from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced Thursday, May 9.

President Nan Keohane announced the gift at an Academic Council meeting. Of the $35 million, $30 million will be used to fund the planned multidisciplinary science building--which will be named the French Science Center, in honor of Melinda French Gates' family--and $5 million will be earmarked for assorted student affairs projects.

Matched by the 1999 Edmund Pratt donation that renamed the School of Engineering, this gift ties for the second-largest in dollar value ever to be given to Duke behind James B. Duke's founding $40 million grant in 1924.

'I'm pleased to be giving back to the university that has given me so much,' Melinda French Gates said in a statement. 'It's my hope that this new state-of-the-art science facility and the student life initiatives will enrich undergraduates' learning experiences.'

Gates, Trinity '86 and Fuqua '87, serves as vice chair of the University Board of Trustees student affairs committee.

'Melinda French Gates is a wise and committed alumna and trustee,' Keohane said. 'We are grateful to her not only for the resources provided by the foundation... but for her personal leadership in helping us shape and implement University priorities.'

Provost Peter Lange said that, as outlined in its strategic plan, the University hopes to strengthen science and engineering departments, better integrate teaching and research, and promote interdisciplinary learning. He said the new structure, scheduled to cost about $100 million, would encourage those goals among the biology, chemistry and physics departments.

'We are certain that Duke needed this facility and we went ahead with plans despite the high costs,' Lange said, adding that the University sought support from donors while planning for the building. 'One of the people we approached was Melinda French Gates, who knows Duke--and its needs--well.'

Keohane will propose the renaming of the center to the Board of Trustees, which has final oversight over building namings.

The remaining $5 million will go toward Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta's plans to reinvent student space and services in the West Union Building and in the Bryan Center into a 'village concept.'

Moneta said he had worked closely with Gates in her role on the board and that he was encouraged that she supported his vision for student life at Duke. 'I think it's a vote of confidence in the work we were going to do. This gift is an incredibly generous one, but I think we are going to need a lot more to fully implement the village plan,' he said.

John Burness, senior vice president for public affairs and government relations, said the $35 million had already been calculated into the Campaign for Duke's running total, which currently stands at about $1.82 billion, less than $200 million shy of the $2 billion it hopes to reach by the end of 2003.

This is the second major gift from the Gates foundation. In 1998, the couple gave $20 million to fund the University Scholars program, which provides 20 students interested in interdisciplinary study with full scholarships.

The Gates foundation, which has an asset base of $24 billion, focuses on projects that will advance health and learning internationally.


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