Board of Regents talk of 'transformational' donation for MSU computer sciences building Support Local Journalism Support Local Journalism

Board of Regents talk of 'transformational' donation for MSU computer sciences building Support Local Journalism Support Local Journalism

The naming of Montana State University’s new computer sciences building after a donation from the Gianforte Family Foundation seems set to sail through the Board of Regents, with a vote planned for Thursday.

With minimal discussion on the actual name of the building, regents and MSU administrators focused on the what they called the “transformational” impact of the $50 million donation.

“I’m very impressed by the sheer size of the gift made by the Gianforte Family Foundation,” MSU President Waded Cruzado said in the regent’s Wednesday meeting. “(A) $50 million gift is transformative for any university.”

The donation, announced in February, is to construct a building dedicated to the university’s Gianforte School of Computing — named for an earlier donation from the foundation.

“A gift of this magnitude would have been transformative for any discipline but when you’re talking about computer science, that is the realm of the future,” Cruzado said.

The Board of Regents’ own policy states that a building may not be named or dedicated in honor of a person employed by the university system or an elected official until one year after the end of their term. The policy allows exceptions, including in instances where the “giving warrants some form of recognition.”

Board Chair Casey Lozar asked Cruzado how the money from the Gianforte Family Foundation would be “transformative” for the campus.

Cruzado said a new building would bring together students studying not only computer science degrees but related fields like cybersecurity, optics and photonics, music technology, photography and electrical engineering. She said students are interested in more than one field and housing related programs in one building would allow students to explore them and could foster creativity.

The building would also allow MSU to increase outreach to high school students.

Board of Regents talk of 'transformational' donation for MSU computer sciences building Support Local Journalism Support Local Journalism

“One of the things we really look forward to is having the opportunity to attract more of our high school students early on,” Cruzado said. “The big names in computing, the Steve Jobs and the Bill Gates, they did not start when they were 22 years old, they started much earlier.”

Director of the Gianforte School of Computing John Paxton said he would like the building to have thematic spaces throughout the building to “help us tell stories and help students understand how they can make contributions to the computing world.”

As an example, Paxton said he envisioned a Montana software industry hallway, where students could learn about local companies like Zoot Enterprises.

“If we can put the right people together, the building itself will serve as a creative incubator,” Paxton said.

While nationwide about 80% of the students who receive computing degrees are men, Paxton said, he would like that to become more equal and representative of Montana’s demographics.

During Wednesday’s public comment, a representative of the Associated Students of the University of Montana said naming the building Gianforte Hall would do more harm than good.

“There have been words and actions the governor and his wife have taken and said certain things that segregate groups of people from other,” he said. “No argument can take back the actions of the governor and his family.”

Both Regent Joyce Dombrouski and Cruzado talked about how MSU had collected public comment per the board’s policy but there was no public discussion on what the comment showed.

During the listening session held at MSU in April, all but a couple of the students, staff and residents who spoke were opposed to naming the building Gianforte Hall.

They highlighted concerns over Gov. Greg Gianforte’s assault on a reporter, anti-LGBTQ laws he signed into law and donations the family foundation has made to organizations classified as “hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In addition to the name of the building, the regents are scheduled to vote Thursday on an authorization to allow MSU to spend $5 million of the donation to plan the construction of the computer science building.

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