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University Of Pittsburgh Gets $125 Million Pledge

University Of Pittsburgh Donation

KEVIN BEGOS   09/22/11 07:23 PM ET   AP

PITTSBURGH — A former steel executive has pledged $125 million to the University of Pittsburgh just weeks after pledging $265 million to Carnegie Mellon University.

The pledge from William S. Dietrich II is the single largest gift in the school's history, Pitt officials said Thursday. In recognition, the School of Arts and Sciences will be named after Dietrich's father.

Beginning in the early 1960s, Dietrich turned a small family business into the nation's largest manufacturer of light metal construction framing. He earned his master's degree and doctorate in political science from Pitt and has been a member of the school's Board of Trustees since 1991.

The pledge is another example of how a city known for coal and steel is creating a different vision, Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg said.

Nordenberg said Dietrich was "looking to invest in the institutions that he really does believe hold the key to a strong future for the western Pennsylvania region."

"I know Bill Dietrich hopes his example will inspire others," Nordenberg added.

N. John Cooper, dean of Pitt's School of Arts and Sciences, said the Dietrich gift will help transform what the school can do.

"This is going to let us compete for even better faculty," Cooper said, even as public support for higher education is decreasing.

The Legislature approved a 19 percent cut in aid to Penn State this year, totaling $279 million. The cut was smaller than initially proposed by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. The school has had to make up for the funding shortfall in other areas, including layoffs, program cuts and a salary freeze.

The 73-year-old Dietrich said in a statement that he made the pledge for a number of reasons.

"As a graduate who personally benefited from my own studies at Pitt, I want to ensure that the university can continue to provide educational opportunities of the highest quality to its undergraduate and graduate students," he said.

Founded in 1787 in a log cabin, the school now has more than 35,000 students and a 132-acre main campus. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, another major employer in the region, is affiliated with Pitt's School of Health Sciences. Dr. Jonas Salk developed the first polio vaccine at Pitt's School of Medicine.

Some other recent large gifts include $400 million to Columbia University in 2007, $300 million to the University of Chicago in 2008, and $136 million to Tufts University in 2008. Experts note that it's hard to compare such gifts, since specific terms are often kept private, and some gifts are spread out over time.

The Pitt gift will begin when Dietrich dies and will be administered by a foundation. It wasn't disclosed whether the gift was stocks, cash or both.

Dietrich, a Pittsburgh native, was born in 1938. A former U.S. Marine, Dietrich has been an active supporter of business and the arts in western Pennsylvania, serving on the boards of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Pittsburgh Symphony Society and other institutions.

Dietrich's pledge to Carnegie Mellon earlier this month was also the largest in that school's history.

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Filed by Leah Finnegan  |