GWU to receive $80 million for public health; donors are Milken and Redstone

March 10, 2014

George Washington University will receive $80 million to support public health scholarship through three gifts connected to philanthropists Michael Milken and Sumner M. Redstone, setting a donation record for the private university.

The university plans to announce the gifts Tuesday.

Half of the money — $40 million over five years — will come from the Milken Institute to support the university’s young and growing school of public health. Redstone’s charitable foundation will give $30 million over five years to establish a global center for prevention and wellness.

The university also will receive $10 million spread over this year and next from the Milken Family Foundation to support GWU’s dean of public health.

The Milken Institute and Redstone gifts each break a GWU record set in 2011, when the university announced a gift of $25 million through a partnership with the Textile Museum.

“It’s a pivotal moment in bringing philanthropy to bear on some of the most challenging health issues that humankind faces right now,” GWU President Steven Knapp said Monday. “Mike Milken’s leading the effort in focusing the attention of the whole global community on chronic diseases.”

Milken and Redstone, who are prostate cancer survivors, explained the prevention-oriented thinking behind their gifts in a telephone interview from Redstone’s Southern California home.

Redstone, 90, a longtime media executive, said he swears by antioxidants, swims, rides a bicycle and does everything he can to stay fit. He said his goal is “to bring health and longer lives to people all over the world.” He holds an honorary degree from GWU and is grandfather of a university alumnus.

Milken, 67, a financier with numerous philanthropic ventures in health and education, said he wants to support efforts to fight chronic disease and conditions such as obesity.

Milken said GWU, with a campus in Foggy Bottom blocks away from the White House, is a prime location for the initiative. “We need to effect a change in leadership in prevention and wellness, and you need a presence in the area where health policy’s being made,” Milken said. Myriad associations, federal and global agencies and policy shops with health connections are within walking distance from GWU, he said.

For GWU, which has more than 25,000 students, the gifts reinforce a message that the city’s largest university wants the world to hear: that Washington is growing in academic might in large part because of its political connections. “Everyone sees all roads meeting here,” Knapp said. “This is part of that story.”

Knapp said the gifts originated in meetings with Milken starting in June 2011. The two men had no previous connection, but Milken wanted the institute that bears his name to have a greater presence in the capital. A dinner with Milken took place on campus in July 2011. The university teamed with the Milken Institute and the National Institutes of Health in September 2012 for a science-promoting event. And Knapp flew to Southern California to attend two Milken Institute conferences.

Finally, Milken gave a speech to GWU alumni in October in New York on the connection between global health and the global economy. All of that set the table for the $80 million pledge to GWU.

What will be called the Milken Institute School of Public Health has begun moving into new quarters at 950 New Hampshire Ave. NW, on a campus that is hectic with construction.

Lynn R. Goldman, the school’s leader, will get the endowed title of Michael and Lori Milken Dean of Public Health. The 17-year-old school has 1,165 students, most of them seeking master’s degrees in public health.

Goldman, an epidemiologist and pediatrician who came to GWU from Johns Hopkins University in 2010, said the school has grown from 102 faculty members to 130 in the past 31 / 2 years.

“I just have to say, I’m so excited,” Goldman said of the gifts. “As young as we are, it’s an enormous boost.”

Nick Anderson covers higher education for The Washington Post. He has been a writer and editor at The Post since 2005.
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