Stanford gets $1.5 billion for new climate school from venture capitalist John Doerr

The gift establishes John and Ann Doerrs as leading funders of climate change research and scholarship. PHOTO: STANFORD.EDU/EDWARD CALDWELL

SAN FRANCISCO (NYTIMES) - John Doerr, one of the most successful venture capitalists in the history of Silicon Valley, is giving US$1.1 billion (S$1.5 billion) to Stanford University to fund a school focused on climate change and sustainability.

The gift, which Doerr is making with his wife, Ann, is the largest ever to a university for the establishment of a new school, and is the second largest gift to an academic institution, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Only Michael Bloomberg's 2018 donation of US$1.8 billion to his alma mater, Johns Hopkins University, ranks higher.

The gift establishes the Doerrs as leading funders of climate change research and scholarship, and will place Stanford at the centre of public and private efforts to wean the world off fossil fuels.

"Climate and sustainability is going to be the new computer science," said Doerr, who made his estimated US$11.3 billion fortune investing in technology companies such as Slack, Google and Amazon. "This is what the young people want to work on with their lives, for all the right reasons."

The school, to be known as the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, will be a home to traditional academic departments related to topics such as planetary science, energy technology and food-and-water security. It will also feature several interdisciplinary institutes and a centre focused on developing practical policy and technology solutions to the climate crisis.

Arun Majumdar, who was named the school's inaugural dean and has advised the Obama and Biden administrations on energy issues, said the school would provide context and analysis around climate change issues, but would stop short of advocacy.

Majumdar said the new school would work with and accept donations from fossil fuel companies.

"Those that want to diversify and be part of the solutions, and they want to engage with us, we are open to that," he said.

Other major universities, including Columbia, are establishing interdisciplinary schools focused on climate change as well. Yet the Doerr School for Sustainability, Stanford's first new school in 70 years, will be among the largest and best funded.

It will launch with 90 faculty members and add 60 more over the next 10 years. The university said it had raised an additional US$590 million alongside the gift from the Doerrs, and that some of the funds would be used to construct two new buildings.

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