Nike’s Phil Knight to Give $400 Million to Stanford Scholars

According to The New York Times, on Monday Philip H. Knight, the co-founder and chairman of Nike Inc., said that he had pledged to give $400 million to Standford University to recruit graduate students from around the globe in order to address some of the world’s most difficult problems — poverty, climate change, etc.

Modeled on the Rhodes scholarships, Knight’s gift to the new Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program ties for one of the largest individual donations ever to a university with the $400 million that John A. Paulson gave to Hardvard last year to improve its engineering school. 

“This is using education to benefit mankind and I think it really could be transformative,” Mr. Knight said in a phone interview. “I jumped on it right away.”

According to The New York Times, the ambitious mandate is the brainchild of Stanford’s president, John L. Hennessy, a computer scientist and tech entrepreneur, who plans to step down this summer. In his 16 years at Stanford, Hennessy has increased Stanford’s endowment from $9 billion in 2000 to over $22 billion in 2015, the fifth highest university endowment in the United States. According to Market Watch, Stanford pulling in $1.63 billion in charitable donations — the most of any university — just in 2015!

The program, to be announced today at Stanford, has raised $750 million, placing it as one of the largest fully funded scholarship endowments in the world.

However, these “megagifts” to elite and prestigious universities have their critics, and rightfully so. Many argue that the megagifts are less about academic excellence and have much more to do with ego and prestige.

“This is just part of the crazy arms race between the top schools with no connection to reality,” said Malcolm Gladwell, a writer for The New Yorker and the author of “The Tipping Point” who posted scathing Twitter messages last year about John A. Paulson’s $400 million gift to Harvard. “If Stanford cut its endowment in half and gave it to other worthy institutions,” he said, “then the world really would be a better place.”

According to the Council for Aid to Education, less than 1 percent of the nation’s colleges received 28.7 percent of all gifts in 2015.

Here’s the juicy bit from The New York Times:

Mr. Knight, a graduate of Stanford’s business school, gave that institution $105 million in 2006. Over the past 20 years, he has donated hundreds of millions to the University of Oregon, where he received his undergraduate degree.

Not every gift pledged by Mr. Knight has gone smoothly. In 2000, he withdrew a $30 million pledge to expand the University of Oregon’s football stadium after the school allied itself with a labor group that was critical of Nike factories overseas. The university president later reversed the decision and Mr. Knight restored the gift.

To read the full NYTimes article, click here. And to read about why Knight donated the money, click here.

So, what do you think about the latest donation to Stanford from Phil Knight? Where else do you think this money could, or should, go? Sound off below.

phil knight

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

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4 Comments

  1. It is ironic that Phil Knight is giving money to address global issues like POVERTY, etc. The terrible working conditions and meager wages of workers employed by Nike in third world countries contributes to world poverty and enriches the Nike corporation beyond what it justifiably deserves. Oh well, such is unrestrained capitalism …

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