Small Town, Big Ideas: A Gift to Transform a Texas School into A Global Thought Leader

Texas A&M University recently announced that its Texas A&M University Institute for Advanced Study will be renamed the Hagler Institute for Advanced Study at Texas A&M University in honor of Jon L. Hagler, a 1958 graduate of the university. Already a long-standing benefactor, Hagler made a $20 million commitment to the university.

In a STEM-crazed higher education world where the university experience increasingly resembles a glorified "career readiness" assembly line—not that there's anything wrong with that, especially if you're a parent cutting those tuition checks—Texas A&M's institute looks less University of Washington's new, donor-loving computer science building, and more like an ancient Greek symposium.

Hagler’s gift will provide endowment funding for the institute, the income of which will be used to "attract and support academic visionaries from around the world." Additional funding allows the institute to continue providing a "gateway for esteemed academics to encourage groundbreaking research and support students in their quest for knowledge."

The 2016/2017 class of fellows included scholars from MIT, University of Cambridge, and Brown University. Its lecture series, meanwhile, features talks ranging from "Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Civil War" to "Having Fun with Molecules" to a rumination on climate change entitled "What on Earth Are We Doing?"

The motivation behind the gift is clear: to transform the institute and the university as an epicenter for scholarship and cutting-edge research in a town with just over 100,000 residents.

Which brings me to Jon L. Hagler.

"I have a profound and longstanding belief in the power of education and the institutions that generate knowledge," said Hagler. "I don’t think there’s anything more important to successful democracy or advancing civilization than institutions of education."

Hagler is the founder of the investment firms Jennison Associates LLC and Hagler, Mastrovita & Hewitt. He also served as treasurer and chief investment officer for the Ford Foundation before taking a position as a partner at Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo & Co. LLC in Boston, where he currently resides. 

If Hagler's gift rings a bell, it's because I wrote about him back in 2014, after he and his wife gave $5 million to PBS's flagship investigative series Frontline.

His commitment joins contributions of other donors who have helped fund the institute. At the inception of the program, Chancellor John Sharp made a five-year commitment of $5.2 million to launch the institute. Additional funding for the institute comes from the university and through private support. 

Indeed, Texas A&M's success is but another example of how an upsurge in regional philanthropy has catapulted schools in the Upper Midwest and South to the upper echelons of American universities. For a related case study, check out my take on the University of Arizona startling fundraising success here.