How a Liberal Arts School Drew In a Big Environmental Gift

Bowdoin College recently received a $10 million gift from David and Barbara Roux toward a new environmental studies building tentatively named the Roux Center for the Environment. The space will bring faculty from a number of academic disciplines together to "encourage collaboration and creativity in the teaching and scholarship of the environment."

We keep a close eye on environment-related gifts and grants to colleges, and for good reasons. There is a lot of money flowing for environmental philanthropy right now, both from foundations and individual donors, and issues of sustainability are also of intense interest to college students (and faculty) these days. Many schools dream of landing big green money, but how does that happen? Most funders in this area tend to focus their funding in ways that more directly engage environmental battles: backing policy advocacy work or preserving tracts of unspoiled land. How do schools sell donors on the value of giving for campus-based efforts? 

Well, let's take a look. 

Bowdoin has well positioned itself in recent years for a big green ask. Environmental studies at Bowdoin is already interdisciplinary, involving departments such as biology, legal studies, and history. Bowdoin is even home to an Arctic studies center. The Maine-based liberal arts school also taps into the environment surrounding the school. There's the Bowdoin Scientific Station on three islands in the Bay of Fundy and the Coastal Studies Center on Orr’s Island in Harpswell, Maine.

It makes sense that a liberal arts school like Bowdoin, which has an active and respected environmental studies program, would draw in more gifts building on this work. Donors David and Barbara Roux illustrate this point, and as David puts it, “We are delighted to have the opportunity to support Bowdoin and, in particular, to provide an opportunity for the College to build on its many strengths and accomplishments as a leader among liberal arts colleges in the study of environmental issues. Our gift is not about the building itself, but rather about the opportunities for the critical work that can be done there."

I've also remarked before about how these elite schools are often based in pristine natural settings, which might leave a deep impression on a student turned alum donor. Consider hedge fund billionaire Louis Bacon and his steady support of his alma mater Middlebury, home to another esteemed environmental studies program. Bacon helped bankroll a preservation fund at Middlebury.

Related: Shelling Out Green for Green: The Alumni Donor as Conservationist

Neither David nor Barbara Roux attended Bowdoin, though, and the couple is based in Virginia. A Harvard and Cambridge graduate, David Roux is a co-founder, and former CEO of Silver Lake Group, a technology investment firm. A number of Roux family members have attended Bowdoin, however, including David's father, brother, sister, and the couple's daughter.

Additionally, Barbara is the owner and operator of a horse breeding farm in Virginia and David sits on the board of the National Audubon Society. These works suggest an interest in the environment. David also chairs the board of Jackson Laboratory in Maine. A few years ago, the Roux couple gave $5 million to Jackson Laboratory to support research and find cures for genetically based diseases. The couple's work with Jackson Laboratory is yet one more force that has pulled this mid-Atlantic based couple within Bowdoin's orbit.