This fall MIT is launching a capital campaign to raise $1.5 billion. It is one of the largest campaigns in the history of higher education.

Barbara Stowe, vice president for resource development, says: “It’s an incredibly ambitious goal, but I think we will achieve it. This campaign is an essential vehicle for MIT to realize its dreams for the next 25 years. It will provide the fuel for MIT to grow, innovate, and invent. It’s fuel for the future.”

Part of the reason MIT expects success in the campaign, Stowe predicts, is because science and technology are becoming increasingly important in society.

“If you look at the major issues that face society, almost all have a technological component in terms of their solution. The biggest problems we face as a society–whether population, hunger or AIDS–hopes for their amelioration lie in part, with science and technology. I think that’s part of what draws people to MIT.”

The five-year campaign will have an enormous impact on the quality of student life, Stowe says. We will, for example, have new facilities for student housing and athletics. “There is much we need to do in terms of the restoration of the physical campus. Lots of facilities need upgrading or replacing.”

Also a priority is financial aid. “We have to make sure the best and most talented students in the country can continue to come to MIT. About 60 percent of our students need financial aid. Our policy of admitting young people without regard for their ability to pay is at the heart of MIT. Financial aid will be enormously important in the quality of MIT in the future.”

Two additional areas where MIT will have a distinctive opportunity to make a difference in the next millennium are in the environment and neuroscience.

For example, Stowe says, consider the $8 million gift to MIT’s environmental programs from Lee ’42 and Geraldine Martin. “The timing and focus of that gift for graduate fellowships will have a great impact that goes even beyond its financial value. We will be educating a new generation of students to solve complicated environmental issues in this country and the world.

“And in terms of neuroscience,” she adds, “MIT brings a tremendous group of people to the challenge of understanding the brain. Some have roots in engineering, others in fundamental biology, linguistics and philosophy, and cognitive science. There probably is no institution in the world that has MIT’s expertise across so many disciplines.”

In addition to raising private support for engineering, science, and management, the campaign is an opportunity to increase resources for the libraries, arts, humanities, and architecture and planning.

Charitable giving

Stowe says that Corporation Chairman Alex d’Arbeloff stresses that competition sets American universities apart from others around the world. “And,” she says, “charitable giving is part of that competition and part of what makes them so strong. The commitment that alumni have to an institution is key.”

Stowe is optimistic about the campaign because recently support from graduate alumni, parents, and non-alumni is up, she says, adding that it is perhaps because there appears to be an increasing spirit of generosity among us. “Over the past hundred years, there has been a tradition of volunteerism, civic involvement, and private support to nonprofit institutions that really sets this country apart.”

There is a tradition at MIT that needs to be sustained if excellence of the institution is to be maintained, Stowe says, adding that it is support from succeeding generations of entrepreneurs.

“Unlike other institutions, MIT doesn’t have to invent a tradition of support from people whose wealth has come from the founding of companies. That has been part of MIT for a long time. We’ve been lucky that the people who know this institution best and who care about it most have stepped up to that commitment.”

Stowe says that the campaign will be an opportunity to involve a broader group of alumni, not just financially but in a variety of ways, including interviewing prospective students, mentoring, or involvement with the 50K competition.

She adds that MIT will rely more heavily on alumni volunteers in this campaign than in the past, because the best advocates for the quality of an MIT education are its graduates. She says of Campaign Chairman Ray Stata, ’57, “he has had a lifelong association with the Institute and is a powerful spokesman for what the MIT experience means. He’s dedicated to involving more alumni as volunteers on this campaign.”

There is no question that the success of the campaign lies with individuals, Stowe says, adding that 65 percent of the $550 million already raised is from individual donors.

“There’s an interesting mix of people who become philanthropic to MIT. Often it’s people who reflect back on their MIT education and see that it was so valuable to them that they want to give back. And there is a growing group of friends who are drawn to MIT’s strengths and expertise later in their lives.

“The fun, exciting part of the campaign,” Stowe says, “is talking with students, faculty, alumni, and senior officers about what MIT will be in the future, and how the campaign and the support we get will provide the fuel for MIT to change and grow.”