A philanthropist and former steel executive is giving Carnegie Mellon University $265 million, its biggest gift ever and one of the 10 largest by an individual to private higher education in the United States, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has learned.
The gift, which has the potential of transforming the university, is from William S. Dietrich II, 73, a longtime member of Carnegie Mellon's board of trustees. It is to be announced today at a gathering honoring Mr. Dietrich, who was reared in Crafton and is former chairman of Dietrich Industries. His gift becomes effective upon his death.
Those who know Mr. Dietrich believe that a very sizable gift also will be given to the University of Pittsburgh. Mr. Dietrich holds a Ph.D. from Pitt. He is on Pitt's board of trustees and served as its chairman from 2001 to 2003.
The CMU gift -- equal to about a fourth of the university's entire endowment -- is intended to be a catalyst for its global initiatives and for something long a source of CMU pride: What campus officials call the "fusion of left-brain and right-brain thinking" that includes linking arts and technology study.
The gift will be felt throughout the 111-year-old university at the undergraduate and graduate levels, in scholarship, artistic creation and in research, officials said. And it will support emphasis on interdisciplinary study and problem-solving at an institution Mr. Dietrich has called "a special place."
The gift surpasses what had been Carnegie Mellon's largest individual gift -- one for $55 million made in 2004 by Wall Street investor David A. Tepper and his wife, Marlene. It also easily eclipses other individual gifts to campuses in this region, including a $41.3 million donation to the University of Pittsburgh in 2007 from Ansys founder John Swanson.
In explaining his decision, Mr. Dietrich said he was moved by Carnegie Mellon's global approach and by the quality of its faculty and students.
"A gift that enhances educational opportunities creates a multiplier effect for our communities and our country -- in other words, it is a mode of giving that leverages a gift to achieve its maximum effectiveness," he said in a statement. "Serving as a trustee of Carnegie Mellon convinced me that Carnegie Mellon is not only a great university, but that it is an important driver of the future success of this region and its citizens."
He said the school is one of a handful in the world that has the potential to become a truly global institution. He said Carnegie Mellon has held to a "can-do" attitude and multi-disciplinary approach to problem solving that dates to the school's founding.
Carnegie Mellon said that in honor of the gift, the university's College of Humanities and Social Sciences will be named the Marianna Brown Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences after Mr. Dietrich's mother.
For years, some have speculated that given Carnegie Mellon's reputation in computer science and related fields that such a gift might one day come from a donor whose money was made in the Silicon Valley. But Mr. Dietrich is a product of Pittsburgh and made his money in large part through the steel industry.
University officials say that based on their own research and data from The Chronicle of Higher Education, the largest gift ever by an individual to private higher education in the nation is a $600 million donation made to California Institute of Technology in 2001. The university put Mr. Dietrich's gift at eighth nationally and 14th worldwide for an individual giving to private higher education.
"It's a fantastic gift. 'Wow' is a pretty good word to start with," said Carnegie Mellon President Jared Cohon.
He said the gift recognizes the school's special character and will give future campus administrations important financial flexibility.
"It will provide to the university something it has had so little of throughout its history -- certainly during my time here: Discretionary funds that can be directed toward whatever the university thinks is the most important," he said.
At a university that Mr. Cohon said is associated with science, arts and business education, the gift also represents a commitment to another area: the humanities.
"Bill has always loved history and now he is making history with this wonderful gift," Mr. Cohon said. "Bill understands the special character of Carnegie Mellon with the unique ability of our faculty to work collaboratively at the intersections of science, technology, art, humanities, business and policy.
"This remarkable gift will give us the resources to enhance and extend those collaborations, expand the university's impact in the world and enrich the education of our students," Mr. Cohon said.
He said Mr. Dietrich first broached the idea about nine months ago during a meeting.
"As Bill always is, he's very organized and orderly and he laid out for me just what his thinking was, and his plan, and ticked off all the major points," Mr. Cohon said. "I was struggling very hard to keep myself collected and not sort of jump up and say 'yippee.' "
A former Marine who attributes his success to "luck and pluck," Mr. Dietrich's career as an industrialist spans parts of five decades and he also is an author.
A securities filing in 2001 described him as chairman of Dietrich Industries, a subsidiary of Worthington Industries Inc., maker of metal framing for commercial and residential construction markets.
Worthington acquired Dietrich Industries in 1996.
Mr. Dietrich previously served as president of Dietrich Industries from 1968 to 1998. His company was described as the largest manufacturer in the world of steel framing studs for construction.
Mr. Dietrich has also headed the Mallard Fund, an investment company. And he served on the boards of both Worthington and of Carpenter Technology Corp.
In the community, Mr. Dietrich has been a member of numerous boards, including the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, the UPMC Health System and the Pittsburgh Symphony Society, among others.
Mr. Dietrich received a history degree from Princeton University in 1960 and then entered his father's steel business. He remained there for 18 years before enrolling as a graduate student at Pitt.
In 1984, he received a doctoral degree in political science, a degree consistent with his personal interest in U.S. politics.
In 1991, Mr. Dietrich authored "In the Shadow of the Rising Sun: The Political Roots of an American Economic Decline." This year, Taylor Trade Publishing issued "Eminent Pittsburghers," a collection of his essays.
Today's 11 a.m. ceremony will be Webcast across the university's campuses in Pittsburgh, Silicon Valley and Qatar, as well as program locations in Washington, D.C., Australia and Portugal.
Friends and family of Mr. Dietrich, including his daughter, Anna Elizabeth Diemer, of San Francisco, are expected to attend.
The gift will bring Carnegie Mellon's $1 billion fundraising campaign to the $950 million mark.
"Andrew Carnegie once said, 'As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.' Today, we are seeing the result of what one man can do," said Ray Lane, chairman of CMU's board, invoking the words of the university's founder.
Bill Schackner: email@example.com or 412-263-1977.