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Warren Buffett’s sister gives Northwestern a $101M gift

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Roberta Buffett Elliott gives more than $100 million to Northwestern to boost global studies and scholarships….
NU President Morton Schapiro on Buffett gift: ‘It was really the kind of thing you dream about’

Northwestern University announced Wednesday the largest donation in its history — more than $100 million to boost the field of global studies and fund scholarships for international students..

The donation comes from Northwestern alum Roberta “Bertie” Buffett Elliott, sister of business magnate and billionaire philanthropist Warren Buffett. The siblings were greeted with thunderous applause when they were introduced on campus Wednesday afternoon for the formal announcement of the gift and a panel discussion about global issues
The funding, which was transferred to Northwestern earlier this month, will create the Buffett Institute for Global Studies, a place designed to bring together the university’s faculty, research and programs that focus on global issues.

There are plans to hire new faculty members focused on international areas, provide scholarships for students to study abroad, and give financial aid to international students. The gift also will expand a visiting scholars program that brings experts to NU for a year.

“These are things we are going to start immediately,” Northwestern President Morton Schapiro said in an interview with the Tribune. “The fact that we have the money in hand, we can start the research, the need-based aid.”

Universities in recent years have been adding programs in global studies and putting more money into the field. In October, the University of Notre Dame announced the creation of a School of Global Affairs, the campus’ first new school in about 100 years. Like the new Buffett Institute, the Notre Dame school aims to bring together many of the university’s international programs while also expanding the study of global issues.

Elliott, who got her degree in history from Northwestern in 1954, has been a major financial supporter of international studies at the Evanston campus. Her earlier gifts expanded the Center for International & Comparative Studies, which is now called the Buffett Center.
Schapiro said he met with Elliott and her husband, David Elliott, in December in California to discuss including Northwestern in her will. By the end of the meeting, over dinner, she said she was excited about the university’s plans for global studies.

“She said, ‘I might not want to wait until I’m gone,’ ” Schapiro said. “A couple of days later she called and said she wanted to see what we did with (the money) and not wait. It was really the kind of thing you dream about.”

The gift was about $101 million, bringing her total contributions in recent years to $110 million.

The Buffett Institute will focus on advancing global issues, including the study of religious movements, the spread of democratic political systems, economic development in poor regions of the world, and immigration policies, for example.

In a statement, Elliott said: “A better understanding of the world is critical in an increasingly global society, and the Institute’s research and support of academic programs will help reach that goal.”

In one of the more unique efforts, the gift also will provide scholarships to international students, a growing population on U.S. college campuses and one that rarely qualifies for financial aid. About 10 percent of the Northwestern freshman class this fall is from outside the U.S.

Speakers at Wednesday’s panel discussion talked of how Elliott’s gift and the Buffett Institute will have a positive impact across many disciplines, from theater to medicine to the humanities.

Claudia Leung, an NU medical student, said she has studied in China and Tanzania.

“We are all citizens in the world, and to restrict our understanding of other cultures would put us at a severe detriment,” she said.

Freelance reporter Susan Berger contributed.

jscohen@tribpub.com

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