The family of a large oil and gas company's founder just made a $16 million gift to the University of Kansas to expand on its planned energy and earth sciences center. As with a couple of similar, recent donations at other universities, a focus will be linking up university research with the energy industry.
Donald Slawson, who passed earlier this month at 80, founded Slawson Exploration, a Wichita-based oil and gas firm that became one of the most active drilling companies in the country. He also served two terms on the National Petroleum Council, appointed by presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
He was as passionate about the oil industry as he was about KU. Slawson was an alum, served on the Board of Regents, served as president of the KU Alumni Association, worked on KU’s Athletic Board, and raised two sons to be Jayhawks (studying geology and petroleum engineering).
So it would be hard to find an outlet for his legacy more fitting than the large gift to the university’s Earth, Energy and Environment Center, a complex to be built under the umbrella of the Department of Geology. Part of the center will be named Slawson Hall in his honor.
The center will involve multiple disciplines including geology, engineering, energy storage and the environment, and while it’s not restricted to fossil fuel-based energy exploration, that’s definitely at its core. Labs will explore a variety of new and improved technologies for oil and gas extraction. There is at least one planned area of research related to negative consequences—“research on human adaptations to rapid climate change.”
A strong theme in the research and education will be connecting the industry to the university, speeding technology transfer and providing an interface between the university and practitioners. As one university administrator told the Wichita Eagle, the gift will “bring industry onto our campus.”
We’ve seen a couple of such gifts amid the new domestic oil and gas boom, intended to directly link the state universities with economic opportunity, both in terms of training young talent and speeding along research. One gift to the University of North Dakota was particularly notable for its close connection to a large gas drilling company.
The enthusiasm of universities to set up such industry-driven centers and new facilities is a little troubling, although to be expected in states where the oil and gas plays such a substantial part in the regional economy. It's also a clear sign that the boom in domestic drilling is here to stay.