Utah State University's business school will expand its faculty and offer five times as many slots in its student scholarship programs, paid for by donations of $25 million each from the Huntsman Foundation and Charles Koch Foundation.
University administrators announced the gifts during Saturday's commencement ceremonies. The combined $50 million will be paid out over a period of 10 years, said Doug Anderson, dean of the Huntsman School of Business.
"Thanks to the great support that we've received over the last decade from both of these foundations," Anderson said, "we are aspiring to create the Intermountain West's finest undergraduate college of business."
"This is a big, hairy, audacious goal and we know that it will take many generations to achieve," he continued. "But nonetheless, we believe it's in our reach."
USU's business school has been named after Huntsman since a 2007 donation from the wealthy industrialist that allowed the Logan school to create faculty chairmanships and scholarships in his name.
"I've been observing Utah State University for the past 50 years, and this is the finest college in America," Jon M. Huntsman Sr. said in a USU release. "I didn't go to school there, but I recognize it as the institution where I would go today if I had to select the best university. So when the opportunity arose to partner with my good friend Charles Koch to benefit future generations of students at Utah State, we immediately took it."
The latest Huntsman Foundation gift will be used to expand USU's Huntsman Scholars program, which combines financial aid with international study opportunities and mentoring. The program currently includes roughly 100 students — or 25 per academic year — but will grow to nearly 500 students, Anderson said.
USU President Noelle Cockett praised the out-of-classroom studies made available by the Huntsman Scholars Program, saying they offered an enhanced educational experience that exposed students to a more diverse range of ideas.
"I think the Huntsman Scholars are actually a model for some things we'd like to do more broadly across campus," Cockett said.
Anderson said the Koch Foundation gift will create six faculty positions at the Huntsman School and support faculty and student research. The donation also will expand the three Koch scholarships offered by the school, including the Koch Scholars program, which offers academic stipends to a small group of students to attend weekly discussions on books and other curated materials.
A new Center for Growth and Opportunity also will be launched at USU, officials said, with a focus on research, seminars and workshops, in conjunction with the donations.
"This gift will be transformational for the Huntsman School," Cockett said.
Brothers Charles and David Koch are known for their contributions to libertarian- and conservative-leaning think tanks, advocacy groups and political campaigns. Some of their donations to higher learning institutions have generated criticisms and speculation that the Kochs' foundations are seeking to inject partisanship into higher education.
In 2015, a $1.5 million grant to USU from the Charles Koch Foundation drew a backlash from a group of students seeking transparency on the arrangement.
Anderson said USU administrators are cognizant of the controversy that has followed Koch donations to colleges and universities, but he described the foundation as a supportive partner and denied any instance of partisan pressure.
"They've never attempted to, nor would we allow them to, exercise any undue influence," Anderson said.
He added that if left-leaning philanthropists wished to support the Huntsman School of Business mission, the school would gladly accept those donations as well.
"By definition, we believe a university should be a place where competing ideas clash and are challenged," Anderson said.
Paul Huntsman, son of Jon Huntsman Sr. and owner and publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune, said the joint donation to USU stems from a longstanding business relationship between Huntsman Corp. and Koch Industries.
"My father and the Kochs have had a business relationship in the past," Paul Huntsman said. "They've continued to remain friends over the years."
Paul Huntsman said that many business schools are focused on graduate students and business-administration master's programs. He said the Huntsman family's support of USU is intended to maintain and strengthen a rigorous undergraduate program.
"What we're looking at is for Utah State to be one of the premier undergraduate business schools," Paul Huntsman said. "We really hope to provide a world-class business education at a state school price."
Anderson echoed that goal and emphasized the role that private donations from supporters like the Kochs and Huntsmans have played in setting the Huntsman School apart.
"The Legislature just isn't going to provide an Ivy League education in Logan, Utah," Anderson said. "If we're going to do that, we're going to have to find other sources of support."
Editor's note: Paul Huntsman, a son of Jon Huntsman Sr., is the owner and publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune