Scheduled to be announced on August 18, the unrestricted gift to the PSU Foundation would have nearly doubled the university's endowment and supported students, faculty, and research. The press conference was cancelled, however, for reasons that remain a mystery. Portland State officials told the Oregonian they are still in discussions with the would-be donor and hope to resurrect the gift, or at least a portion of it, but are bracing for the possibility that it has evaporated.
Press material provided before the planned announcement described the donor as a "non-traditional" former student — which may mean he did not graduate — who credited Portland State for forming the foundation for his success in business and believed that the university, whose motto is "Let knowledge serve the city," would directly benefit his native Portland in myriad ways. According to the Oregonian, Nike co-founder Phil Knight, his son Travis, and Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle do not match the donor's profile, while steel fortune heir Jordan Schnitzer, who attended the school at one point, could hardly have been considered non-traditional. Portland State trustee Peter Stott, a financier who has built a fortune in timber, real estate, and trucking and who fits the description in every respect, told the Oregonian he is not the would-be donor.
The cancellation of what would have been the largest gift in the university's sixty-nine-year history highlights the unpredictable nature of big-time philanthropy. While financial and personal issues can prompt eleventh-hour changes, public universities find themselves increasingly dependent on private donations to cover the cost of expansions, renovations, and even basic student services.
"Some individuals offer gifts to universities, institutions, and charities, but they don't deliver a gift for personal or financial reasons that they wish to keep private," Portland State spokesperson Chris Broderick said in a statement. "Ultimately, it's up to a donor to make a gift or not."