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Northwestern University has received the largest single gift in its history — more than $100 million — from alumna Roberta Buffett Elliott to create the Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Studies, Northwestern President Morton Schapiro announced today.

Mrs. Elliott, a 1954 Northwestern graduate, and her brother, Warren Buffett, the legendary financial investor and chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, will be on hand at a panel discussion of global issues featuring Northwestern faculty and students at 4 p.m. today in Pick-Staiger Concert Hall on Northwestern’s Evanston campus. The event is free and open to the public.

Mrs. Elliott’s gift is part of We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern, the University’s $3.75 billion fundraising campaign, and increases her total giving to the Campaign to approximately $110 million. With this gift, the total amount raised for the Campaign has surpassed $2 billion, marking a new Northwestern milestone for campaign fundraising.

“Bertie’s extraordinary commitment and her unprecedented generosity to Northwestern will fundamentally transform every corner of the University’s global programming,” Schapiro said. “In our conversations over the past several months, Bertie and her husband, David, expressed their appreciation for what Northwestern has already been doing in terms of its global outreach, while recognizing that the University could have a much greater impact on the world with expanded and new programs.”

Mrs. Elliott decided to fund the entire gift immediately so that the University can begin recruiting the Institute’s founding director and implementing its programs. “Bertie was convinced we couldn’t wait any longer to get this Institute underway and that Northwestern was its perfect home,” Schapiro added. “She is a truly visionary philanthropist, and we are honored to have her trust.”

The Buffett Institute will take a multidisciplinary, problem-solving approach to advancing important global issues, such as the spread of democratic political systems, economic development in impoverished regions of the world, immigration policies and forced migrations, the impact of cultural exchanges on societies, global religious movements and global communications, media and technology. The Institute will conduct and facilitate research, coordinate campus-wide discussions with visiting experts about pressing global challenges confronting society and provide collaborative funding to academic departments and programs throughout the University.

Mrs. Elliott’s historic gift will have broad impact, providing support for:

  • Adding interdisciplinary professorships. The gift will enable Northwestern to hire new faculty members focused on international areas, with joint appointments at the Institute and a number of academic departments.
  • Funding interdisciplinary research. The gift will provide resources for faculty-led research projects with the potential for incubating solutions to critical global issues.  
  • Hiring a renowned expert in global affairs to direct the University-wide Buffett Institute. The new director is expected to be someone with high-level experience in government and/or academia who will provide overall direction for the Institute and work with Northwestern’s provost, deans and other academic leaders.
  • Providing scholarships for international students. Up to $20 million of the gift could be used as a matching challenge grant to donors who will endow scholarships benefitting international students.
  • Expanding a visiting scholars program that brings distinguished international scholars to Northwestern for the academic year. Drawn primarily from the social sciences, each cohort of visiting scholars will build academic relationships with Northwestern faculty, graduate students and each other.
  • Providing travel grants to students. The additional funding for travel will enable more students who receive financial aid to participate in study abroad and other international travel programs.
  • Providing funding for graduate student fellowships. Graduate students will work closely with faculty members on research projects and with undergraduates in the classroom.
  • Creating a postdoctoral fellows program. Fellowships will allow scholars early in their careers to work on individual and collaborative research projects and to teach undergraduate courses on topics relevant to the Institute’s core areas.

“I’m very pleased to be able to support the important work that Northwestern does in international studies,” Mrs. Elliott said. “A better understanding of the world is critical in an increasingly global society, and the Institute’s research and support of academic programs will help reach that goal.”

Today’s event will be moderated by President Schapiro and will feature a panel of Northwestern leaders, faculty and students discussing key global issues. Members of the panel will be:

  • Everette Dennis, dean and CEO, Northwestern University in Qatar
  • Beth Shakman Hurd, associate professor of political science, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences
  • Claudia Leung, ’11, ’16 M.D., student, Feinberg School of Medicine
  • Joel Mokyr, the Robert H. Strotz Professor of Arts and Sciences, Weinberg
  • Gary Saul Morson, a Frances Hooper Professor of the Arts and Humanities, Weinberg
  • Harvey Young, associate chair of theatre, School of Communication

Mrs. Elliott earned a degree in history and Phi Beta Kappa honors from Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. While at Northwestern, she served on the staff of The Daily Northwestern and was a member of the Women’s Debate Team, YWCA and the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority. She served as co-chair of her 50th class reunion in 2004. Two of her grandchildren have graduated from Northwestern, and one is a current student.

Mrs. Elliott has been a major supporter of international studies at Northwestern for many years. Her earlier gifts enabled the University to expand the Center for International and Comparative Studies, now called the Buffett Center. The Center supports 33 research centers, programs, working groups and funded projects across the University and has 218 affiliated faculty representing all of Northwestern’s schools.

Mrs. Elliott, along with her three daughters, established the Berkshire Foundation in 1996. She has served on the boards of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Monterey County Symphony Association, Carmel Bach Festival, Community Foundation for Monterey County and Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. In addition, she is a former president of the Junior League of Monterey County.

David Elliott is a retired managing partner of an international executive search consulting firm. A U.S. Peace Corps volunteer for many years, he managed Peace Corps programs in India, Nigeria and Sierra Leone from 1964 to 1969 and served in Poland in the early 1990s.

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1 Comment

  1. 100 million? Where’s our cut?
    Northwestern has another $100 million?

    It won’t be long before we hear from the NIMBYs , demanding that they get their piece of cheese:

    “Perhaps Northwestern can buy the Harley Clarke mansion, restore it, and turn it into a museum/branch library for the History Society”

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