Johns Hopkins Philosophy To Receive $75 Million Gift


The Department of Philosophy at Johns Hopkins University will be receiving a $75 million gift from William H. “Bill” Miller III, an investor who was once a philosophy graduate student at the school.

The aim of the gift is “to broaden and intensify faculty research, graduate student support and undergraduate study of philosophical thought,” according to a press release from the university. It will be used to eventually add nine faculty lines to the Department of Philosophy’s current 13, endow several positions, provide support for junior faculty members, add $10 million to endowed support for philosophy graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, and fund efforts to attract more undergraduates to philosophy, including through the creation of new courses and interdisciplinary programs.

Miller, the founder and chairman of Miller Value Partners, was an undergraduate at Washington and Lee University. “I had taken exactly one philosophy course in college, but it led me to read a lot more philosophy when I was in the Army during the Vietnam War,” said Miller, 67. “I decided to apply to a Ph.D. program once my time in the military was ending.”

“I attribute much of my business success to the analytical training and habits of mind that were developed when I was a graduate student at Johns Hopkins,” he says.

The gift prompted Ronald J. Daniels, the president of Johns Hopkins University, to say:

“Philosophy matters… Philosophy defines what it is to be human, to lead lives that are meaningful and to create societies that are just and humane. The contemporary challenges of the genomics revolution, the rise of artificial intelligence, the growth in income inequality, social and political fragmentation, and our capacity for devastating war all invite philosophical perspective. Bill Miller’s unprecedented commitment to our Department of Philosophy underscores the continuing vitality and relevance of the humanities.”

More information here.

UPDATE: The New York Times covers the story here.

UPDATE 2:  Inside Higher Ed reports on the gift here.

UPDATE 3: A Wall Street legend gave $75 million to philosophy majors and, yes, it’s a good investment” — at Market Watch.
Score One for the Liberal Arts: Why That Big Campus Gift for Philosophy Matters” — at Inside Philanthropy.

UPDATE 4: Legendary hedge fund investor attributes his success to studying philosophy” — at CNBC.

UPDATE 5: Giving the Horse a Thorough Dental Exam” — here at Daily Nous.

UPDATE 6: What a Big Donation Might Mean to One Department” — at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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Sikander
Sikander
3 years ago

JHU is already a wealthy university. These philosophy-valuing rich people should consider giving to public universities or universities outside the USA.Report

Thinker
Thinker
Reply to  Sikander
3 years ago

Right, let’s just put aside all of our sentimental values and personal engagements, relationships, and feelings of gratitude. I mean, what could possibly have any pull on an individual in the face of the knowledge that someone, somewhere could use the money more than the people and places who have profoundly impacted his or her life?Report

Thinker2
Thinker2
Reply to  Thinker
3 years ago

In fact, come to think of it, *I* am uniquely suited to figure out the *perfect* recipient for this money. These well-intentioned but ultimately unaware “philosophy-loving rich people” should just give the money to me, and I’ll decide who is deserving and who is not. Let’s not let the good get in the way of the perfect.Report

Sikander
Sikander
Reply to  Thinker
3 years ago

I disagree that this person’s personal attachment to his former university justifies his giving money to it rather than those unis that need it more and would benefit from it more.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Sikander
3 years ago

I’m curious why you think the donor needs to justify himself to you or anyone else, for that matter.Report

R
R
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

How can people be so flip about this? Baltimore’s poverty rate is 25%. There are millions of people who are being failed by their fellow citizens in dramatic ways–not even to get started on international poverty. This man has been made incredibly wealthy by the whims of an economic system that treats millions of people cruelly. I don’t see how that could be controversial, even among those who won’t call it unjust. I don’t think this is a uniquely ineffective gift–a lot of philanthropy strikes me this way, and even more fundamentally, I wish wealth were distributed in such a way that philanthropists didn’t exist. (http://www.newsweek.com/billionaires-money-end-poverty-report-786675) But we’re supposed to be the ones who think about justice! So I expect a different starting place!Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  R
3 years ago

I wasn’t being flip. I was asking a question; one that I meant seriously. And still do. If there is an answer in your comment, I’m not seeing it. Or at least, not one that strikes me as in any way relevant to anything. That you “wish” all sorts of things about other peoples’ money and property strikes me as being of quite limited interest.Report

R
R
Reply to  R
3 years ago

Well, I don’t really think of it as being his money. I think of it as stolen goods, or close enough to that. Conditions that would make his ownership of it legitimate have not been met.Report

Sikander
Sikander
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

@ Daniel Kaufman

The donor ought to do the right thing, in the same way and for the same reason people in general ought to.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Sikander
3 years ago

The donor did a very nice thing for a department that he personally cared about.

That he didn’t do an even nicer thing that you would have preferred doesn’t render his very nice thing “not right.”

I would focus my moral attentions on actual wrongs.Report

Sikander
Sikander
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

@ Daniel Kaufman

And I would stop committing whataboutery and let people make their legitimate complaints.Report

Some grad student
Some grad student
Reply to  Sikander
3 years ago

That’s not how funding works at JHU. The humanities and med school fund by themselves. So that we’re wealthy may be right, but it also doesn’t say anything about the state of philosophy at jhu.Report

Sikander
Sikander
Reply to  Some grad student
3 years ago

I went to a grad conference at JHU (in philosophy) and I know from interaction with grad students there that you lot are fairly well-funded compared to a lot of other departments in the U.S., and this is not even getting to outside the U.S.Report

Anarnamous Garnamous
Anarnamous Garnamous
Reply to  Sikander
3 years ago

Speaking as someone from JHU’s philosophy department, the University administration has already been trying steadily to cut funds from the humanities in some way (in 2013 it reduced the number of funding packages available and in 2016 it tried to close its own Humanities Center) so the department itself, with its small faculty and limited funding, has never been “rich”. This endowment is well placed, IMO.Report

Sikander
Sikander
Reply to  Anarnamous Garnamous
3 years ago

They’re definitely better funded than us and than departments in many countries outside the U.S., where because of the exchange rate the money would also go a much longer way.

“This endowment is well placed, IMO.”

Obviously you would say that.Report

Anarnamous Garnamous
Anarnamous Garnamous
Reply to  Sikander
3 years ago

Agreed, the funding situation at JHU is already better than at other places. It’s still not good enough to make the department’s students as competitive on the job market as those of other departments, and the placement record there is weak compared to more famous departments. Why is JHU’s department at fault for wanting to benefit its own students? There are powerful agent-relative reasons for it to care about giving its students the most opportunity it has, and (as someone mentioned) for Miller to take an interest in bettering the department that he credits much of his success to, and with whom he stands in relationships of gratitude. So whether the university is deserving or in need is just one consideration here. No one has obviously been made worse off by the donation, so I’m not sure what the grounds for your complaint are. Should JHU have rejected the money? Should Miller have donated it to another, a different department?Report

Anarnamous Garnamous
Anarnamous Garnamous
Reply to  Anarnamous Garnamous
3 years ago

*the most opportunity it canReport

Anarnamous Garnamous
Anarnamous Garnamous
Reply to  Sikander
3 years ago

And, and another thing. Yes, obviously I would say that. As a member of the department what happens to and for it matters to me, and ought to. Reasonable partiality is a thing.Report

Sikander
Sikander
Reply to  Anarnamous Garnamous
3 years ago

“Reasonable partiality is a thing.”

I agree, but this is an example of the bad kind of bias.Report

Anarnamous Garnamous
Anarnamous Garnamous
Reply to  Sikander
3 years ago

Why?Report

Christy Mag Uidhir
Christy Mag Uidhir
3 years ago

I’m movable.Report

Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

R. wrote:
Well, I don’t really think of it as being his money. I think of it as stolen goods, or close enough to that. Conditions that would make his ownership of it legitimate have not been met.

= = =

Fortunately for all of our money and property, this is not for you to decide. Of course, if you are aware that he has come by his wealth by way of criminal acts, you should go straight to the police.Report

R
R
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

You appear to think that no one should ever do moral, political, or legal philosophy, since how things should be is “not for them to decide.”Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  R
3 years ago

I think no such thing, nor did I say any such thing.Report

Darcy
Darcy
3 years ago

It seems strange to me that people are debating whether another department might have been more proper. This sort of argument seems to rely on a principle to the effect of “it is wrong to donate money for some purpose if, even though that purpose is good, it is not the best purpose that money might be put to.” However, if this principle were right, then the money shouldn’t be donated to less well-off departments either, since I would imagine we could come up with a better purpose for the money than that as well, say combatting hunger. (Or, if you really hold philosophy above hunger, then everyone who donated to combat hunger really ought to be giving to underfunded philosophy departments and is blameworthy in not doing so, an even more obvious reductio.) In other words, this principle rules out all donations to philosophy departments as wrong, along with donations to any good causes that are not the most needing cause. Would anyone really endorse this principle, or how else do you justify the view that Mr. Miller is obligated to use his money to donate to other philosophy departments? Do all good uses of our resources have to be the best possible ones in order for us not to be culpable, and even if so, how could that mean he should donate to needier philosophy departments?Report

Anarnamous Garnamous
Anarnamous Garnamous
Reply to  Darcy
3 years ago

Thank you for this excellent comment.Report