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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Board Of Regents Considers Gianforte's $8 Million Gift To MSU

Greg Gianforte at his home in Bozeman in 2016
Eric Whitney
Greg Gianforte at his home in Bozeman

Montana University System Regents heard testimony Thursday about an $8 million gift to Montana State University by Greg Gianforte, the Bozeman software entrepreneur who’s running for governor as a Republican.

Last week Greg and Susan Gianforte’s family foundation announced a gift that, if approved, would establish the Gianforte School of Computing. 

Head of the MSU’s Computer Science Department John Paxton told the Board of Regents that this donation would enable the university to better serve its students. 

"What we have been noticing is that statewide, and even nationwide, there is a growing need to educate more students with computer science and computational thinking skills."

Gianforte founded the software development company RightNow Technologies in Bozeman in the 1990s. In 2004 Oracle Corporation bought it for a $1.5 billion.

Democrats have challenged the Republican candidate on his motives and timing of the donation.

Regent Robert Nystuen acknowledged that some people may question the gift, but also said it could impact students for generations.

MSU Sophomore Haley Cox studies economics and computer science. She told the regents Thursday that the Gianfortes' financial  support of groups like the Family Research Council conflicts with MSU’s values

The Family Research Council’s website calls homosexuality harmful and unnatural.

"Putting the name 'Greg Gianforte' will ultimately hurt what the university stands for and will harm many minority students. $8 million dollars is surely a generous gift. But no amount of money is worth compromising our principles for," Cox says.

President of MSU’s Student Body Garrett Leach, a sophomore finance major, supports the donation and says it will benefit all students, regardless of race or sexual orientation.

"As a public institution it is not our place to screen donors of their ideology before deciding whether or not to accept gifts. Just as it is not our position to screen students on their ideology before they enroll at MSU."

The Board of Regents will vote on the name change to MSU’s computer science department Friday morning. A Montana University System spokesperson said politics will not be a consideration in the decision. 

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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