In 2013, when University President Peter Salovey presented business mogul Stephen Schwarzman ’69 with a potential donation to West Campus, Schwarzman rebuffed the opportunity to bolster scientific research at Yale.
But five years later, Schwarzman gave $350 million to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to establish a new college for computing and artificial intelligence.
According to an MIT press release Monday morning, the gift from Schwarzman will partly fund the school’s $1 billion initiative to advance the study of computing and artificial intelligence. The announcement comes three years after Schwarzman gave $150 million to Yale in order to transform Commons dining hall into a student center. At MIT, the business mogul’s donation will establish the Schwarzman College of Computing, support the hiring of 50 new faculty members and pay for the construction of a new building. With Schwarzman’s gift, MIT seeks to “position itself as a key player in the responsible and ethical evolution of technologies that will fundamentally transform society,” the university’s press release stated.
“There is no more important opportunity or challenge facing our nation than to responsibly harness the power of artificial intelligence so that we remain competitive globally and achieve breakthroughs that will improve our entire society,” Schwarzman told the News, through a Blackstone spokesman. “We face fundamental questions about how to ensure that technological advancements benefit all — especially those most vulnerable to the radical changes AI will inevitably bring to the nature of the workforce. MIT’s initiative will help America solve these challenges and continue to lead on computing and AI throughout the 21st century and beyond.”
The announcement of Schwarzman’s donation to MIT comes amid efforts across Yale to advance scientific research and education at the University. In a June report, the University Science Strategy Committee articulated several areas for investment, including artificial intelligence and computer science.
When asked about Schwarzman, a Yale alumnus, giving one of the largest-ever university donations to an institution of higher education other than Yale, Salovey congratulated Schwarzman and MIT on establishing a new college for computing and artificial intelligence.
“Steve, like many other Yale alumni, serves not just his alma mater, but communities worldwide,” Salovey said. “I look forward to seeing the discoveries that will be produced through the MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing. The collective efforts of investigators at Yale, MIT and universities around the globe will be needed to ensure that AI research advances in a manner that is most beneficial to society.”
But Schwarzman’s gift to MIT will not be the first time his name hangs on display at an institution of higher education other than Yale. In 2013, he announced a gift to establish Schwarzman College, a residential college at Tsinghua University, as part of the Schwarzman Scholars program modeled after the Rhodes Scholarship.
Years prior, in September 2008, former University President Richard Levin offered to name one of the new residential colleges after Schwarzman, hoping to secure a $125 million donation. Schwarzman accepted the offer on the spot but walked away from the gift when the Corporation decided that no residential college would bear the name of a living donor.
When asked why Schwarzman decided to give one of the biggest university donations to an institution that is not his alma mater, Blackstone’s global public affairs manager Thomas Clements said the finance mogul believes in “the transformational power of education.”
“[Schwarzman] has made considerable contributions to higher ed,” Clements said in an email to the News. “He is thrilled to support the renovation of Commons at Yale into a vibrant student center, the founding of Schwarzman Scholars at Tsinghua University in Beijing among others.”
Clements said that when Schwarzman considers making donations to universities, he “looks for opportunities to help tackle big challenges with ambitious solutions.”
According to Clements, MIT President L. Rafael Reif first met with Schwarzman in 2015. At the time, Schwarzman was fascinated by the promising technology behind artificial intelligence and the ethical challenges posed by its widespread use, as per a New York Times report. Over the next two years, Schwarzman and Reif briefly met in New York and Davos, Switzerland, where they discussed the trajectory and implications of artificial intelligence.
Over the past year, MIT administrators drafted a concrete plan for the future of computing and artificial intelligence, in response to suggestions from Schwarzman, the Times report stated. According to Clements, Schwarzman decided to support MIT’s initiative in June.
In an interview with the News earlier this year, former Vice President for Development and Alumni Affairs Terry Holcombe explained that the complex process of courting major donors can involve years’ worth of meetings, newsletters, phone calls and fundraisers. Yale’s own conversations with Schwarzman about potential donations began in the 1980s. In contrast, MIT’s conversations with the Wall Street tycoon took just three years.
In an interview with the News earlier this year, Levin noted that Schwarzman has “fairly strong ideas of what he would like to give money to and under what terms.”
In addition to Schwarzman’s $350 million donation, MIT has already raised another $300 million for its $1 billion goal.
Lorenzo Arvanitis | firstname.lastname@example.org
Serena Cho | email@example.com