Nike's Phil Knight makes largest cash donation in Stanford's history

Outgoing Stanford President John Hennessy to lead new graduate-level scholarship program

Philip Knight, Stanford University alumnus and co-founder of Nike, has made the single largest cash donation from an individual in Stanford's history to launch an "ambitious" graduate scholarship program, the university announced Tuesday.

Knight donated $400 million to the Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program, named for him and outgoing Stanford President John Hennessy, who will serve as the program's inaugural director.

The program will annually admit 100 "high-achieving students with demonstrated leadership and civic commitment who are nominated by their undergraduate universities," a university press release states. Their tuition will be paid in full and the university will also provide a stipend for living expenses. They will receive funding for three years to "pursue master's or doctorate level degrees, or professional programs along with education in leadership, innovation and other curricula designed to develop scholars' capacity to lead ambitious change in a complex world," the release states.

Stanford hopes the program's alumni will tackle complex international issues, including: widening gaps in opportunity and income; declining livability caused by population growth; environmental degradation; social instability owing to structural inequality and intergroup conflicts; and persistent human health challenges despite rapidly rising costs, according to an FAQ page for the program.

To prepare for this, Knight-Hennessy Scholars will have access to Stanford's seven graduate and professional schools (law; business; medicine; engineering; humanities and sciences; education; and Earth, energy and environmental sciences). Given Stanford's location in the heart of Silicon Valley, there will, of course, be additional courses in design thinking, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Students in the program will also be exposed to leadership training and development, residential experiences, immersive educational opportunities, additional degree opportunities focused on public policy and problem-solving, according to Stanford. The university will also create a "social startup fund" to support any nonprofit startups launched by the program's alumni.

Students pursuing a doctorate or master's degree will also have the option to receive funding beyond the initial three years.

"We wanted to create something enduring, that would be unlike anything else currently available to the world's brightest minds, and that would make the biggest impact possible toward solving global challenges affecting the environment, health, education and human rights," Hennessy stated in the university press release. "We will bring together outstanding, courageous scholars to benefit from Stanford's innovative educational environment, who then go on to lead governments, businesses, nonprofits and other complex organizations and develop creative solutions to effect positive change."

With a $750 million endowment, the Knight-Hennessy Scholars will also be the largest fully endowed scholarship program in the world, according to Stanford. More than 80 percent of the endowment will directly support the students, fully funding their graduate education and living expenses. The program represents the largest single increase in student financial aid in Stanford's history, according to the university.

A faculty advisory committee will help guide admission and curriculum criteria that will be available in the winter of 2017, according to Stanford. The university will begin accepting applications from prospective students who have completed at least three years of their undergraduate career in the summer of 2017 and accept an inaugural class of 50 students to begin in the fall of 2018.

Jeff Wachtel, who has served as chief of staff to Hennessy throughout his presidential tenure, will be the Knight-Hennessy Scholars' first executive director. Additional program leaders, including the director of admissions, will be announced in the coming months.

Knight is no stranger to big donations to his alma mater. In 2006, he made a major gift to the Stanford Graduate School of Business and has provided substantial support for endowed professorships and Stanford Athletics.

Two other major donations in Stanford's history will be extended to support the Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program. In 2011, Robert King (a Stanford Graduate School of Business alumnus) and his wife Dorothy gave $150 million to spur entrepreneurship in developing countries. It will also support the King Global Leadership Program, a "distinctive training and development curriculum in which all Knight-Hennessy Scholars will participate to complement their core degree studies," the university announced this week.

Denning House, a building in the heart of Stanford's campus whose construction was enabled by a $50 million donation from Stanford Board of Trustees Chair Steven Denning and his wife Roberta, will also become the "convening hub" for Knight-Hennessy Scholars, according to the university.

Knight described his gift as a "tribute" to Hennessy, who will be stepping down at the end of this school year after more than 15 years of leading the university.

"John and I dream of a future 20, 30 or 50 years from now, when thousands of graduates – who can think outside the box as skilled problem-solvers – will be working together for a more peaceful, habitable world," Knight stated in the press release. "The Knight-Hennessy Scholars program is a fitting tribute to John, one of the great academic leaders of our time."

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16 people like this
Posted by Barry Soetoro
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 24, 2016 at 6:03 pm

What a generous gift by Mr. Knight! I'm sure some of these future scholars will do good things in the world.

I hope that during their time on the Farm, they take a class of two in humility, and learn that it often happens that when people try to do good they can create problems.

Paleoanthropologist Ian Tattersall put it well when he said, "The only ironclad rule of human experience has been the law of unintended consequences."

4 people like this
Posted by Hildebeast
a resident of Monroe Park
on Feb 24, 2016 at 8:42 pm

[Post removed.]

14 people like this
Posted by radar
a resident of another community
on Feb 25, 2016 at 5:50 am

Residents of Palo Alto urged Stanford to refuse the gift unless Knight donated $400 million to all other Pac 12 schools under the concept of parity

4 people like this
Posted by southerner
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 25, 2016 at 8:52 am

Thank you for your generosity Mr Knight.

2 people like this
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 25, 2016 at 11:56 am

forward thinking
opportunity to make real change
giving back

Like this comment
a resident of College Terrace
on May 24, 2016 at 7:14 am

SEA_SEELAM REDDY is a registered user.

I attended an event with Mr. Phil Knight last week at GBS. You are amazing human; to the likes of Bill and Melinda Gates. Your gift to Stanford will educate more to be like you to solve world problems in health and society.


5 people like this
Posted by Baloney
a resident of University South
on May 24, 2016 at 8:22 am

Stanford was flush with cash already. There are far worthier causes than Stanny!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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