Ex-Dodgers owner McCourt gives Georgetown $100 million to launch public policy school

Danny Moloshok/AP - Former Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt walks by the dugout before a baseball game in Los Angeles, June 8, 2010. McCourt is giving Georgetown University $100 million to found a school of public policy.

A former owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers is giving Georgetown University $100 million to found a school of public policy that will bear his family name, the largest donation ever to the nation’s oldest Catholic university.

Frank H. McCourt Jr., who took the storied baseball team into bankruptcy in 2011 and sold it last year for a reported $2.15 billion, has endowed Georgetown’s ninth school with a gift that will expand the university’s footprint in the growing field of public policy scholarship.

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McCourt, 60, who lives in New York, graduated from Georgetown in 1975. His donation, which surpasses a previous university record of $87 million set in 2010, is scheduled to be announced Wednesday.

The McCourt School of Public Policy, to be launched in October, will join a host of schools with a similar mission at other universities. Harvard has the John F. Kennedy School of Government. George Washington has the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration. There are also public policy schools at the University of Maryland and George Mason University and a public affairs school at American University.

Georgetown’s version will focus on analysis of massive data files emerging from a plethora of government agencies and other sources in the 21st century, seeking to shed light on education, health, poverty and other subjects.

“Georgetown has a very, very deep capacity here,” McCourt said. “It’s a university that is in the right place at the right time to tackle some of these global issues.”

The core of the new school will be what is now the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, which has drawn some big names to its faculty over the years.

Richard G. Lugar, a former Republican senator from Indiana, is a visiting professor. Byron L. Dorgan, a former Democratic senator from North Dakota, is an adjunct professor. The dean of the institute, Edward Montgomery, an economist who held senior positions in the Clinton and Obama administrations, will become dean of the McCourt School.

The McCourt gift will fund an expansion of faculty, scholarships for top students, a Center for Global Politics and Policy, and a Massive Data Institute. The school will be based in the Old North building on the main campus but at some point could move to another part of the District to be closer to government agencies.

Georgetown Provost Robert Groves, a former director of the U.S. Census Bureau, said the data initiative will capi­tal­ize on the explosive growth of quantitative public information through such sites as www.data.gov, to help frame policy issues and train new generations of government leaders.

A critical staffing issue for many agencies, Groves said, “is just having the talent that can navigate these files.”

McCourt, a real estate developer, is known nationally for his controversial tenure as Dodgers owner from 2004 to 2012. In October 2009, McCourt fired his wife, Jamie McCourt, from the position of Dodgers chief executive. He then battled her in a messy divorce case and led the team into bankruptcy. Major League Baseball officials sharply criticized McCourt’s ownership and pushed him to sell.

But McCourt is known at Georgetown for his deep ties to the Jesuit university founded in the 18th century. His father, Frank H. McCourt, graduated from Georgetown in 1939. Two of McCourt’s brothers and one of his sons are also alumni. McCourt, who received a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1975, served on the university’s Board of Directors from 2005 to 2011.

The origins of the McCourt gift trace to a board meeting Dec. 7, 2006, when Georgetown President John J. DeGioia pitched the idea of a public policy school, which would be the university’s first new school since a business school started in 1957.

“Frank came up to me in a coffee break that day and said, ‘This is an idea I could get very excited about,’ ” DeGioia recalled.

McCourt, interviewed with DeGioia by telephone Monday, said: “It just seemed to me the perfect way for the university to really embrace the future, and do so in a way that capitalized on its core strengths.”

The magnitude of the gift is notable for higher education but not rare. Numerous universities have reported donations of $100 million or more, including a $350 million pledge this year from New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to Johns Hopkins University.

In the District, American University said its largest private donation was $20 million. GWU said its largest donation was valued at $25 million. Trinity Washington University last week announced its largest donation, $10 million.

 
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