SEATTLE — Washington State University is getting a $26 million donation from its richest dropout, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the school said Thursday.
The gift for the university's School for Global Animal Health was approved by the university's Board of Regents on Thursday morning. Events were held around the state later in the day to formally announce Allen's gift and publicly begin a $1 billion fundraising campaign, the largest in school history.
Allen's gift will be the largest private grant the land-grant university in Pullman has received in its 120 years. It's $1 million more than Allen's old friend and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates gave through his charitable foundation in 2008 to build the School for Global Animal Health, which studies diseases that move from animals to humans.
University President Elson Floyd said the Campaign for Washington State University has already raised more than $532 million, including Allen's gift, since behind-the-scenes fundraising began in 2006.
Allen said the gift to WSU was one of the largest he's made and it was something he'd been thinking about for more than a decade. He said the university approached him to talk about global animal health and suggested he invest in their plans to do scientific research in Africa.
"This particular gift — because it's focused on animal health and the third world and Africa, which I've grown really to care about and have spent time in Africa — really resonated with me," Allen said in an interview after the announcement. "It was just a great opportunity to work with Washington State to bring it about."
Allen said he was happy to contribute to something Gates was also involved in, but the idea for the contribution went back years further than the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's announcement.
In appreciation, the WSU Board of Regents voted to change the name of the school to the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health. The building will also be named for Allen.
The university is building animal health programs in Washington state and in Africa and plans to cross-train scientists in both places, eventually helping to set up an independent research program in Africa that will be financed by the Kenyan and Tanzanian governments.
Allen, 57, attended Washington State University for two years before dropping out in the 1970s to take a computer programming job.
He founded Microsoft with his high school friend Gates in 1975. Allen was Microsoft's executive vice president of research and new product development until 1983, when he left to focus on his health.
Since then he has invested broadly in technology, real estate, sports and the arts. He owns the Seattle Seahawks football team and the Portland Trailblazers basketball team, and is part-owner of Seattle Sounders FC, a major league soccer team.
He has a band, collects and restores vintage airplanes, and built the Experience Music Project, a museum about rock music in Seattle.
Allen's net worth totals about $13.5 billion, making him the 37th richest person in the world, according to Forbes' September list. His charitable foundation, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, has awarded $404 million to nonprofit organizations since 1990, primarily in the Northwest.
Allen has given WSU several other smaller gifts over the years, including $195,000 in September to study the effectiveness of a technology-focused high school. In 1996, he donated $3.1 million to build a new high-tech house for his old fraternity, Phi Kappa Theta, at WSU.
On the other side of the mountains, he also has made large gifts to the University of Washington, including $14 million for the Computer Science and Engineering Building, $12 million for the Allen Library named for his father, Kenneth Allen, and $5 million for the Henry Art Gallery expansion.
Ground was broken this summer for the $35 million headquarters of the School for Global Animal Health. The building was funded with a $25 million grant from the Gates Foundation, and the rest came from other donors and through state bonds.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 75 percent of recently emerging infectious diseases in humans are of animal origin. Among those are anthrax, HIV and mad cow.
Associated Press writer Nicholas K. Geranios in Spokane contributed to this report.