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Nike co-founder Phil Knight already has his named etched on the University of Oregon law school and library along with many endowed professorships that also bear his family name. Knight and his wife, Penny, helped fund $60 million worth of renovations at Autzen Stadium, home of the Ducks football team, in the early 2010s.
On Tuesday, the Knights cemented their Oregon legacy even further as the couple and University announced a $500 million commitment to build a new science complex on campus.
“This act of philanthropy from Penny and Phil Knight is breathtaking,” University of Oregon President Michael Schill said in a statement. “This is a seminal moment for the University of Oregon, an inflection point that will shape the trajectory of the university and this state for the next century and beyond.”
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Schill confirmed to the Oregonian that the half billion dollar gift—which will be spaced out in 10 annual installments of $50 million—is the largest donation ever to a public flagship university in the United States.
“While not without risk, we believe the expected societal returns from such investments are high,” Knight said in a statement. “And here at home in Oregon, we believe the potential to arm our talented young people with the skills and tools they will need to have a lasting impact on the world and to pursue rewarding careers makes such investments essential.”
The new Knight campus will focus on life sciences such as biology, microbiology, biochemistry and other disciplines. According to Patrick Phillips, Oregon Biology Professor, the gift will aid in hiring 30 new scientists and researchers while bringing 550 students and post-doctoral scholars to Eugene, too.
The University of Oregon hopes the Knights’ gift will pave the way for a total $1 billion effort from donors to build a research hub that will discover products and cures which could potentially improve the quality of life for people around Oregon and the world.
When Knight stepped down as Chairman of Nike’s board in June, the brand had a market value at almost $85 million.