Speaking at the graduation ceremony on Saturday for students in the Huntsman School of business, Jon M. Huntsman, Sr., the school’s namesake, speculated people might wonder if he and Charles Koch have the Midas Touch since the two men give away a lot of money.
Coming from humble beginnings before becoming a billionaire business mogul, founder of a renowned cancer institute and a philanthropist, Huntsman said he never met anyone like the Greek mythological King Midas — but he knows the definition of the Midas touch.
“Hard work. It’s integrity. It’s honesty. But it is also, my dear graduates, something that we don’t hear much about today — ethics,” he said. “If you’re ethical and honest at what you do, you will always come out ahead.”
Huntsman gave those remarks after the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business announced a joint gift agreement between the Huntsman Foundation and the Charles Koch Foundation worth $50 million — the largest gift in USU's history.
Both foundations agreed to give $25 million for the Huntsman School. Some of the $50 million from the foundations will go to support the selective Huntsman Scholars program, while some of the money from the Charles Koch Foundation will go to support a new USU-affiliated nonprofit, the Center for Growth and Opportunity.
USU President Noelle Cockett was first to announce the donation at the undergraduate commencement ceremony. Later, Huntsman School Dean Douglas Anderson announced the gift at the business school’s graduation ceremony, during which Huntsman spoke and a video — featuring comments from Charles Koch — was played.
“It’s a true honor for me to partner with my long-term friend, Jon Huntsman, to support the great work at Utah State University,” Koch said in the video.
Chatter of the joint gift between Huntsman and Koch began online months ago. But it was only within the last few days that USU officials confirmed the gift agreement and provided The Herald Journal details of it ahead of the announcement, under the condition such information not be released until Saturday.
According to information provided by USU, both foundations' contributions of $25 million are to be paid out over 10 years, with up to $2.5 million contributed annually.
Funds from the Huntsman Foundation’s portion of the gift will, among other things, allow the Huntsman Scholars program to increase four-fold — to 400 students — and hire an academic director and executive director. The program provides a unique curriculum to a select group Huntsman School students.
Michael Scott Peters, USU’s incoming student body president who is also a Huntsman Scholar, said he is pleased two major foundations are coming together to support Huntsman Scholars.
“I see it as very beneficial and more inclusive for more students who weren’t able to join the program before,” he said.
The Huntsman Scholars program is all that the Huntsman Foundation is providing money for under the terms of its half of the $50 million gift.
The Charles Koch Foundation provides support for the scholars program, too, but USU didn’t spell out how much that adds up to prior to the announcement. The foundation’s primary funding and support in this gift agreement goes to the Center for Growth and Opportunity.
The center will “advance scientific understanding of the interaction between individuals, business and government to develop solutions to important problems.”
The Charles Koch Foundation’s support for the center includes six faculty positions (including three who are tenure-track), stipends and full-tuition scholarships for students who are either with the Koch Scholars program or the center.
In an interview on Friday ahead of the announcement, Cockett talked about the significance of this joint gift agreement being the largest gift in USU’s 129-year history.
“I just see this incredible awareness and love for what Utah State University is, and people are seeing that and they want to help us be even greater,” she said. “It really is transforming to the Huntsman School of Business.”
The Huntsman School's Anderson told The Herald Journal the gift was the effort of many people, "not the least of whom are the outstanding students who have come through this program and impressed many people, including Mr. Huntsman and Mr. Koch, so deeply."
The announcement of the $50 million gift on Saturday is reminiscent of a $25 million donation by the elder Huntsman to USU in 2007, which led USU officials to rename the business school in his honor.
Saturday’s announcement does not mark the first time the Charles Koch Foundation has given to USU, either. In 2009 and 2015, two gift agreements totaling over $2 million allowed USU to hire new professors and use funds for a Huntsman School institute and business school addition, Huntsman Hall. Huntsman Hall opened in spring semester of 2016.
The second contract sparked controversy among some in the university community who believe the Koch brothers are heavily influencing — with a conservative political bent — higher education and politics.
Cockett was asked what she would say to those who might be upset that one of the Koch brothers contributed to the largest gift in the history of USU.
The USU president said she wants to see “intellectual discourse on a variety of ideas.”
“If you think about it, these people that are protesting are saying, ‘We don’t want to hear those kinds of ideas.’ That’s the exact wrong thing that we do — we shouldn’t be doing that on a campus environment,” Cockett said. “I say to those students, 'Get engaged. Find out. Discuss. Debate this. Have that exchange of ideas.' Don’t just simply say, ‘I don’t want that. Don’t bring that on this campus.’”