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Montana Dems Cry Foul Over 'Gianforte School Of Computing' At MSU

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Eric Whitney
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On Thursday, Montana’s Board of Regents will review a plan by Montana State University to re-name its computer science department the Gianforte School of Computing. The action would honor Greg and Susan Gianforte, whose family foundation pledged $8 million to MSU. Greg Gianforte is also running for governor as a Republican.

On Tuesday, a group of Democrats protested Gianforte’s donation.

"I think if Mr. Gianforte was sincere about this, he would have donated the money several years ago. Why right now? The timing is unusual."

That’s Missoula Democratic Senator Tom Facey, who says he’ll sponsor a bill in next year’s legislative session to ban universities from naming buildings after candidates actively seeking office.

An MSU spokesperson said the university had been in talks with the Gianfortes about a large donation, like the one announced last week, for about four years.

The Gianfortes gave $2 million from 2003 to 2015 to MSU’s Computer Science Department to boost enrollment, award scholarships, and help curriculum.

In 2007, MSU awarded Gianforte an Honorary Doctorate in Computer Science.

The creation of a Gianforte School of Computing, and MSU’s proposal to name an auditorium on campus for him, require a supporting vote from Montana’s Board of Regents. A spokesperson for the board said politics do not influence the vote.

On Wednesday, more voices rose in opposition to the timing of Gianforte’s donation.

AFL-CIO Executive Secretary Al Eckblad wrote a letter the Board of Regents asking the board to postpone their vote until after the election, and to not allow the University System be used as a pawn for political gain.

"If you are going to do this for a guy that's running to be the Governor of the State of Montana, it's free publicity. It may not be free, it may be some of the most expensive that he buys. Money already, it's made our whole political system lopsided to the wealthy individuals. So now they are going to buy titles at universities and get press for it in an election cycle? I can’t imagine anything that is more inappropriate."

College student and youth advocacy group Forward Montana also released a press release Wednesday condemning the donation.

Group spokesperson Kiah Abbey, an MSU Political Theory alumnus, says the gift contradicts the values of the university.

"Montana State University has gone on record over and over again, especially this past semester, saying they want to create a space on their campus that is harassment free and that discrimination will not be tolerated. Yet, they are taking money from a foundation that has also donated to groups like the Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed a hate group, and is very specifically anti-LGBTQ. And that is where we are taking objection, we find that really problematic."

Abbey says a lack of funding from the state legislature is forcing universities to accept private dollars for state institutes.

Montana Public Radio’s Eric Whitney asked Gianforte about the opposition to his donation during a campaign stop Tuesday.
 
Greg Gianforte:  I’ve learned no good deed goes unpunished. We love this state of Montana. We’ve been incredibly blessed, we feel an obligation to give back and serve, and if people want to condemn us for giving away more than half of our income over the last 10 years, they can do that. I’m going to focus on trying to create better jobs so our kids don’t have to leave the state.

Eric Whitney: So the contribution to MSU is not campaign-related?
 
GG: It’s through our foundation. In fact, you asked me here, but I haven’t commented on it publicly and i don’t plan on it.

The Gianforte Family Foundation donation to MSU will be reviewed during a Board of Regent meeting in Havre on Thursday.

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