Former steel executive, alumnus gives second record-setting amount
September 23, 2011 4:00 AM
William S. Dietrich II, left, with University of Pittsburgh chancellor Mark Nordenberg on Thursday, the day Pitt announced a record-setting gift of $125 million from Mr. Dietrich, a Pitt alumnus and board member and a former steel executive.
By Eleanor Chute and Bill Schackner Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The impact of a historic $125 million gift from philanthropist and former steel industry executive William S. Dietrich II will extend far beyond the naming of the University of Pittsburgh's School of Arts and Sciences in honor of his father.
N. John Cooper, dean of the school, said the money will enable the school to fund scholarships, fellowships and other endeavors that will enhance programs. The soon-to-be-named Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences will welcome the highest quality of students and faculty.
The gift "is positively shocking in its scale, and it will have a tremendous impact on the school going forward," Mr. Cooper said.
The gift from Mr. Dietrich, an alumnus and Pitt board of trustees member, was announced Thursday by the university. It ties for the 10th highest private gift to public higher education in the United States, according to figures from The Chronicle of Higher Education through June 24.
It is the second record-setting gift made by Mr. Dietrich, 73, who earlier this month was revealed to have bequeathed $265 million to Carnegie Mellon University, effective upon his death.
Both gifts also are substantially larger than either university's previous largest gifts -- $41.3 million for Pitt in 2007 from Ansys founder John Swanson and $55 million for CMU in 2004 from Wall Street investor David A. Tepper and his wife, Marlene.
"I'm almost speechless," Pitt chancellor Mark Nordenberg said. "What Mr. Dietrich has done is to set up a perpetual flow of dollars into the university that are designed to help us seize opportunities and to secure our position as a center both of teaching and research."
Pitt plans to salute Mr. Dietrich during the university's football game Saturday against Notre Dame at Heinz Field.
Mr. Dietrich, a renowned business leader, investor and author, graduated from high school at Conneaut Lake in 1955 and from Princeton University in 1960. After graduation, he went to work for a firm his father, Kenneth, founded in 1959. Initially a small lumber company near Blairsville, the firm grew to become Dietrich Industries, a steel distribution and products company.
Mr. Dietrich was instrumental in turning the company into the nation's largest manufacturer of light steel framing for construction, with more than 1,800 employees at 19 plants in 17 states.
Mr. Dietrich earned a master's and a doctorate in political science at Pitt and chaired the board of trustees from 2001-03. He also serves on the CMU board of trustees.
Pitt officials said the fund, which becomes operational upon Mr. Dietrich's death, will put the university's $2 billion "Building Our Future Together" capital campaign past the $1.85 billion mark.
"We will have considerable discretion in use of the dollars," Mr. Nordenberg said of the gift. "Our principal focus will be on the School of Arts and Sciences."
Mr. Nordenberg said he and Mr. Dietrich have worked closely, so he was aware of Mr. Dietrich's plan to use the 1996 sale of his steel business to benefit the region, including Pitt.
"But it was not until far more recently that I had a sense of just how successful he had been in growing those assets and what difference that was going to make to the university," Mr. Nordenberg said.
Mr. Dietrich, in a statement released by Pitt, said, "I am making this investment in the University of Pittsburgh for a number of reasons. As a graduate who personally benefitted from my own studies at Pitt, I want to ensure that the university can continue to provide educational opportunities of the highest quality to its undergraduate and graduate students. As a citizen of southwestern Pennsylvania, I want to help secure the future of one of this region's most important institutions and hope that this gift will encourage others to join with me in supporting the university. And as someone who has seen Pitt's transformation into a national and international force in higher education from the special vantage point of a trustee, I want to recognize the extraordinary progress that has been made by the university, particularly during Mark Nordenberg's 16-year tenure as chancellor."
A resolution will be introduced at the Oct. 28 meeting of Pitt's board of trustees to name the School of Arts and Sciences the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. The school has more than 10,000 undergraduate students studying natural sciences, humanities and social sciences and is home to the largest graduate program in Pittsburgh.
Earlier this month, CMU announced that it would name its College of Humanities and Social Sciences the Marianna Brown Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, in honor of Mr. Dietrich's mother. Mr. Dietrich's daughter, Anna Elizabeth Diemer of San Francisco, was on hand for the announcement.
Mr. Dietrich's mother died in 1983. His father died in 1984.