George Mason University, a public institution in Northern Virginia immersed in a debate recently over private fundraising, announced Thursday that it has landed a $10 million donation to support its school of policy, government and international affairs.
The gift is from Northern Virginia businessman Dwight C. Schar, who is a home-building executive, a frequent Republican political donor and a part owner of the Washington Redskins football team. The school will be renamed the Schar School of Policy and Government in his honor.
The donation comes as GMU’s president, Ángel Cabrera, has been defending recent gifts of $30 million to the university’s law school. In announcing those gifts, the university said it would rename the law school for the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia. An iconic and controversial jurist, Scalia led the court’s conservative wing for many years before he died suddenly in February.
Among the gifts to the law school was $10 million from the Charles Koch Foundation. The foundation gives often to colleges, but Koch is also well known as a donor to conservative political causes.
Worried about the influence of private donors, GMU’s faculty senate has asked the university to delay renaming the law school until the full implications of accepting the donations can be understood.
But Cabrera has pushed back against critics. He said recently that the 33,000-student university needs to expand its fundraising but that it will also maintain its academic independence and commitment to free exchange of ideas.
Schar is politically active but not on the same scale as Koch. He and his wife, Martha, have given $178,100 to Republican candidates and causes in the 2015-2016 political cycle and $5,400 to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He also was once finance chairman of the Republican National Committee.
But he has strong bipartisan relationships.
In a statement Thursday about the Schar gift, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) said: “Mason has steadily grown its influence in the world of policy and government, showing Northern Virginia can be both a starting point and a destination for people who want to serve and make a difference. Nobody gets that better than Dwight Schar, a driving force for the regional economy and a strong and valued supporter of the commonwealth. Dwight is truly an inspirational advocate for education, and this gift ensures his legacy will endure.”
Schar founded the home-building and mortgage company NVR Inc., based in Reston. In 2015, he pledged a $50 million gift to the Inova hospital system to support cancer research at a complex in Fairfax County.
He and his wife have supported GMU in numerous ways over the years, endowing a faculty chair at the public policy school and backing the Center for Regional Analysis. Their daughter, Tracy Schar, is a graduate of GMU and a member of its governing Board of Visitors.
“This gift acknowledges the successes already achieved by Mason’s public policy school, and it signals our expectation that its great history is only the beginning,” Dwight Schar said in a statement. “But this is more than rhetoric; it is based on a palpable shared feeling among students, faculty, and school leadership that something very exciting is happening here. This is not the end of the road. I look forward to having a long-term relationship with the school and watching it grow and thrive.”
Cabrera praised the donor. “Dwight Schar’s gift will help bring the increased international acclaim the school so richly deserves,” he said. “We anticipate a fruitful and ongoing relationship as we work to make the Schar School a world leader.”