Michael R. Bloomberg, a Wall Street financier turned business news magnate, has promised to give $55 million to his alma mater, the Johns Hopkins University. The gift will be the largest in Hopkins history, and among the 15 largest to an American university.
"The bottom line is: I'm a lucky guy," said Mr. Bloomberg, a Hopkins engineering graduate of the class of 1964. "You really don't get a chance very often to make a difference in the world. I can, so why not?"
Mr. Bloomberg, 53, said he does not know exactly how he will parcel out the $55 million. The largest previous gift for Hopkins was $50 million pledged in 1992 by Zanvyl and Isabelle Krieger to the school of arts and sciences.
"Exciting? It doesn't happen very often," acting Hopkins President Daniel Nathans said. "A gift of this magnitude -- with the generosity which it indicates, the confidence in this school that it indicates -- is going to be a beacon for other donors."
Mr. Bloomberg's gift, announced at a trustee banquet last night, sparks the $900 million Johns Hopkins Initiative fund-raiser at a time when it was perceived to be most vulnerable. The departure in June of former President William C. Richardson, who had personally landed the two largest previous gifts to the campaign, led to fears that the campaign would slow after only a year.
This pledge, payable over the next five years, should prove otherwise, Hopkins officials said. The money will be invested largely in endowments for each of the eight Hopkins schools and the Milton S. Eisenhower library, as well as the university's cancer center and research building. With the Bloomberg gift, the university has received pledges and gifts of $467 million, or 52 percent of the goal for the drive, scheduled for completion in February 2000.
Mr. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg News Services, heads the fund-raising initiative and will become the school's trustee chairman next summer. He told reporters he intends to be an active chairman, saying he plans to spend the equivalent of two days a week on Hopkins matters.
Among those duties: soliciting major gifts from other potential upper-tier Hopkins benefactors.
"This commitment suggests indeed that the campaign momentum is strong," said Robert R. Lindgren, Hopkins' vice president for development and alumni relations.
"It certainly is a very important vote of confidence by Mike in the future of Hopkins."
Already on Hopkins' Homewood campus, there is a Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy, a Charlotte Bloomberg professorship in the humanities (given in honor of Mr. Bloomberg's mother), and a Bloomberg endowment to help sponsor academic programs.
And he suggested that this gift would not be his last significant donation to Hopkins. Mr. Bloomberg said, however, that he does not need another Hopkins building bearing his name.
"For the rest of my life, I will look in the paper and see that some Hopkins guy wrote something, or found the cure for something, and I'd think, 'That's part me,' " Mr. Bloomberg said. "When we win a Nobel Prize for research on cancer, part of that is mine. I couldn't do it without him [the prize-winning researcher], but he couldn't do it without me.
"I want to get the pleasure of seeing my contribution at work. You want to have influence if you have money," Mr. Bloomberg said. "People who say, 'I want to do it in my will' -- I've never understood why people would do that, instead of while they're young and can enjoy it and control where it goes."
About $525 million of the money to be raised during the campaign is expected to be to placed into the university's endowment, a pool of investments that generates interest to pay annual costs on the campus.
As of June 30, the market value of the endowment stood at slightly more than $838 million; as of July 1994, the most recent point for which there are national comparisons, Hopkins had the 21st-largest endowment among American universities.
Seventeen, including several with far lower international profiles, have endowments exceeding $1 billion.
But Johns Hopkins' reliance on government grants and contracts now leaves it exposed to the deep cuts promised by congressional Republicans in research spending.
A year ago, Hopkins unveiled its fund-raising campaign, which had started quietly several years earlier, with the announcement of a gift of $20 million from the Sheridan family toward the renovation and upkeep of the Eisenhower Library.
Largest gifts to Johns Hopkins
1995: $55 million for the eight schools, the Milton S. Eisenhower Library, and the university's cancer center and research building. Michael R. Bloomberg
1992: $50 million for the School of Arts and Sciences endowment. Zanvyl and Isabelle Krieger Fund
1994:$20 million for the Milton S. Eisenhower Library. R. Champlin and Debbie Sheridan
1995: $20 million for the Johns Hopkins Hospital Cancer Center. Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation
1982: $17.7 million for the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Estate of Glenn Stewart
NOTE: Baltimore benefactor Johns Hopkins founded the university and the hospital that bear his name with dual $3.5 million bequests upon his death in 1873. While the Johns Hopkins University and the Johns Hopkins Hospital are technically separate institutions, they cooperate on many activities -- including raising money.
Largest gifts to American universities
1. New York University, 1994: At least $150 million, and perhaps as much as $500 million (given in the form of a 57-acre Italian estate and art collection, plus cash). Sir Harold Acton
2. Louisiana State University, 1981: $125 million in stock and gas and oil royalties. Claude B. (Doc) Pennington
3. University of Pennsylvania, 1993: $120 million in cash. Walter H. Annenberg
4. University of Southern California, 1993: $120 million in cash. Walter H. Annenberg
5. Emory University, 1980: $105 million in stock. Robert W. Woodruff
SOURCES: The Johns Hopkins University, The Chronicle for Higher Education