Huntsman family pledges $12 million for new professorships at Utah State University

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Jon M. Huntsman Hall, the new $50 Million building in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business, pictured on Wednesday, March 16, 2016.

The Huntsman family announced Wednesday that it will commit $12 million toward new professorships in honor of late patriarch Jon M. Huntsman Sr. at the Utah State University business school named after him.

The contribution is part of more than $56 million that the Huntsmans have donated to the school since 2007. And it is their first major project there since they said goodbye to Huntsman Sr. in February 2018.

“These professorships are a realization of a priority articulated by my father more than a decade ago,” said his son, David Huntsman, a USU trustee and president of the family’s charitable arm. “It was very important to him, as it is now to my mother and my family.”

Huntsman Sr., who was a billionaire chemical industrialist — in addition to being one of the world’s most generous philanthropists — is often cited as Utah’s most influential businessman. In 1970, he launched his own polystyrene company, which took off after it won a contract to create the clamshell for McDonald’s Big Mac.

His Huntsman Corp. is still running, as is his Huntsman Cancer Foundation, which helped start a research and treatment institute at the University of Utah.

“He grew up poor in southern Idaho but, because of his exceptional talent and dedication, rose to a position of prominence in the world,” said Douglas Anderson, dean of the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business. “Those are the same values we teach students here.”

The $12 million endowment for the school — with an additional $3 million from USU — will fund five permanent professor positions. One will be named after Huntsman Sr.’s wife, Karen, to support a female educator. Another will be named after Anderson to fund someone in finance. Two others will be named for Karen Huntsman’s father, David B. Haight, and leadership scholar and author Steven R. Covey, who wrote “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and previously taught at USU.

The final one will be named after former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, who was a close friend of Huntsman Sr., and will focus on research.

Near the end of his life, Huntsman Sr. had endowed a professorship in Reid’s name at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to much fanfare. But Reid’s name was previously removed from the Outdoor Engagement Center at Southern Utah University after criticism in 2014 that the Democrat didn’t represent the conservative values of Utah.

David Huntsman said the family isn’t concerned about any similar controversy in naming the professorship at Utah State after him.

“Harry Reid was a dear friend of my father,” he said. “We consider it a privilege to have his name connected to the Huntsman business school.”

Reid attended SUU but graduated from USU. When the decision was made to pull his name from the building in southern Utah, he said it was due to “right-wing wackos in Utah.” He never raised funds to have the place named after him.

As for the female professor position, the school of business currently has 100 faculty members and 20 of them are women. The endowment will be used to recruit a new female professor to the northern Utah school and improve its gender representation now and in the future, Anderson said.

“It’s 20 percent. And we think that’s not enough. That’s what this is about,” he added, noting this position is just the beginning.

The Huntsman family previously endowed five professorships at the business school in 2012 — and those five-year terms have since expired. The new contribution is set to fund the positions “into perpetuity,” Anderson said. Some of the faculty will be hired from out of state in a nationwide talent search; others will be honored from within the current staff.

David Huntsman said his father was dedicated to making the business school experience about supporting student success. The clearest path he saw to that was hiring and retaining top faculty and mentors, and the family is dedicated to continuing that with ongoing contributions, he said.

Huntsman Sr. wanted the school to “be a destination where the best and brightest want to come,” his son said.

Over time, the school intends to fundraise from other donors to keep the positions going, too.

Huntsman Sr. made his first large donation — $25 million — to the program in 2007 to support scholarships. A decade later, he donated another $25 million. That contribution was somewhat controversial as it came alongside an additional $25 million from the Charles Koch Foundation.

Charles Koch is known for his commitments to conservative-leaning think tanks and advocacy groups nationwide. Some of his donations to higher education have generated criticism and speculation that the foundation is trying to insert partisanship into schools.

In 2015, a $1.5 million grant from the foundation to USU drew backlash from students who said the transaction wasn’t transparent and would lead to indoctrination of graduates.

At the time of their joint donation, the Huntsman family said the partnership to contribute to USU was based on a longstanding business relationship between Huntsman Corp. and Koch Industries.

The business school has also been criticized for not openly discussing tuition as required in its bylaws.

David Huntsman said, though, that his father has long admired the school for preparing students for careers in business. In 2017, Huntsman Sr. called it “the finest college in America.”

Anderson added: “It will perpetuate the good work that Jon Huntsman stood for.”

Editor’s note: Paul Huntsman, a son of the late Jon Huntsman Sr. and brother of David Huntsman, is the owner and publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune.