A Campus Donor Known for Underwriting a B-School Gives Big for Law

New York University School of Law recently received a $20 million gift from real estate developer Stephen M. Ross. We've mentioned Ross before, and the Giving Pledge signatory's huge commitment to the University of Michigan, where he graduated. He's given UMich $313 million, a large chunk of that going to the business school, which was renamed in his honor. Ross is UMichigan's largest donor.

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Ross's commitment to supporting business students makes sense. He's the chairman and founder of Related Companies, one of the nation’s largest urban developers. Related's $15 billion Hudson Yards, a 28-acre neighborhood in Manhattan, broke ground in 2012. Related is also nearly finished with another project in Queens. Ross' ventures have made him a fortune, and he's worth $6.7 billion as of this writing.

Despite having plenty of money on hand, and signing the Giving Pledge, Ross appears to do much of his philanthropy without a formal charitable vehicle. This pattern holds here with his recent $20 million gift to NYU Law.

But what's behind this billionaire businessman's support of a law school?

After Ross finished his undergraduate studies at University of Michigan, he also got a J.D. from Wayne State University, and earned an LL.M. in taxation from NYU Law, a few years prior to starting Related. Ross was only at NYU for a year, but as he says, it was the "best year of my life, and probably the most influential." 

Of course, those who get law degrees don't necessarily stay in that lane for the rest of their lives. For some, it provides a useful skill set that can be applied in other areas, too. Ross says that NYU Law taught him to think and solve problems in a way that benefited him as both a lawyer and a businessman.

Ross has also stayed in touch with NYU, and just last year spoke at an event called “Leveraging Your Law Degree into a Lifetime of Leadership." His company Related, meanwhile, emerged as a leading tax syndicator in the 1980s, before becoming known for its large commercial projects. In other words, Ross has certainly leveraged his NYU Law degree.

Finally, this gift serves as a good reminder that while a donor can have his or her philanthropic bullseye in one area—for Ross, that has been the University of Michigan—that doesn't mean that other places can't receive big money as well. After hundreds of millions supporting the University of Michigan, it's possible that the 75-year-old Ross is thinking about other areas of interest as well.

Ross' $20 million gift is unrestricted, allowing NYU to use the money as it sees fit. The donation is largely in the form of a bequest.

Related - Campus Cash: Law Schools