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$24 Million Gift Is Largest Ever To University Of Montana

University of Montana's Main Hall.
Josh Burnham
Montana Public Radio
University of Montana's Main Hall

In the midst of budget cuts and falling student enrollment, the University of Montana finally had some good news to spread today. 

Paula Short, a spokeswoman in the office of the president at UM said today is a "great day at the University of Montana. We are pleased to announce the largest single gift received at the University of Montana. In fact a $24 million pledge to benefit our College of Forestry and Conservation and our Global Leadership Initiative.”

The gift was made by Phoenix venture capitalist Bill Franke and his family.

Franke co-founded Indigo Partners, an investment firm focused on air transportation, including America West, Spirit and Frontier Airlines.

But he also has a long history of philanthropy in higher education elsewhere; the business school at Northern Arizona University was named for him, following a $25 million gift in 2007. Likewise at Stanford, where he is an alumnus.

While not alumni of UM, the school says the Frankes have been deepening their connections with both the state of Montana and the university.

Short says this gift, “comes after many years of a relationship between the Franke family and the University of Montana. They certainly have a passion for conservation of natural resources, which explains their desire to help our College of Forestry and Conservation.”

The University has proposed re-naming the College of Forestry and Conservation and the Global Leadership Initiative to honor the contribution of the Franke family.

The school is moving forward with vetting the naming proposal within the campus community.

If it is accepted by the faculty senate, it will then move forward to the Board of Regents for consideration next month.

This will give the public a chance to participate in the process and weigh in on the naming proposal.

Last year, UM re-named its law school for a major donor, but was criticized for not giving the public more time to provide input.

As for the $24 million from the Frankes, the university won’t give more details about the gift until the formal campus approval process has been completed.

“This truly is a transformational gift," Short says, "and the opportunities that it will bring for our faculty and for students at the University of Montana are going to be extraordinary.”

Short did say that the Franke family is looking forward to introducing themselves to the community and discussing the inspiration behind their gift in the weeks to come.

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