Chicago private-equity pioneer and Notre Dame University trustee John W. “Jay” Jordan II has given $75 million to his alma mater — the largest single gift in Notre Dame’s 172-year history and one that makes Jordan the school’s most generous benefactor, the school announced Friday.
The money will go toward making Notre Dame renowned in an area of science and technology that is new to the university, boosting the school’s preeminence as a research institution, said University President the Rev. John Jenkins in an interview on Thursday.
The money will recruit top faculty and students, create prototypes, support seed grants and otherwise build a research and commercialization program, the university said in a press release.
Jordan, a 1969 alumnus whose giving now totals $150 million, told the Sun-Times in a phone interview on Thursday, “We as a country must maintain our cutting-edge role in research, science, technology and mathematics, and Notre Dame can take a leadership role in playing a part in that mandate.
“It is not only critical for socioeconomic reasons, but for national security as well,” he said of the need for America to maintain its leadership.
Jordan, co-founder and managing partner of Chicago-based private investment firm The Jordan Company and chair and CEO of holding company Jordan Industries Inc., described himself as a “finance guy” who “didn’t know the difference between a manhole cover and a test tube,” but who understands that it’s “impossible” to invest too much in science and technology.
“I’ve been lucky, fortunate and successful,” said Jordan, a 21-year trustee at Notre Dame who chairs the investment committee that oversees the university’s $9 billion endowment. “I can do something like this.”
Jordan’s previous gifts have funded Jordan Hall of Science, with undergraduate labs for biology, chemistry and physics, and an auditorium at the Mendoza College of Business.
He said he invests in Notre Dame because its core values make it “a great institution” academically and athletically, “a great spiritual place,” “a way of life” and “a very special place to this country” at a time when many universities give degrees that “are not worth toilet paper.”
Though the new research area hasn’t been determined, Jenkins said possibilities include nanotechnology and sustainable energy — areas where Notre Dame is gaining a reputation for seeking ways to make tinier, more powerful computing devices, as well as safer nuclear and cleaner fossil fuels and liquid fuels from the sun.
Jenkins said University Provost Thomas G. Burish will talk with the faculty and the deans in the next few months to decide how the money can be best spent.
The news comes amid President Barack Obama’s push to use technological innovation to boost the economy, shrinking federal dollars to finance basic research, and a trend in which billionaires are underwriting more and more private research of their own choosing that can be quickly commercialized.
Jenkins said universities face stiffer competition than ever in winning federal research funding, and Jordan’s gift is especially meaningful because the university can identify where it will have the biggest impact.