Stanford to explore new energy sources

Clark Center at Stanford University


SCOTT JAGOW: It's tough sledding out there if you're a charity or a foundation or a university endowment. But the money hasn't completely dried up. This week, Stanford snagged $100 million from some wealthy alums. The money will help create a new research center for global warming. Schools will have to rely on private funding for a while, and that could cause some sticky situations.

Marketplace's Janet Babin reports from the Innovations Desk at North Carolina Public Radio.

JANET BABIN: Stanford's new Precourt Institute for Energy will create renewable energy and global warming solutions.

The institute got most of its money from two big donors: $50 million from Stanford alum Jay Precourt, and $40 million from Stanford Trustee Tom Steyer and his wife Kat Taylor.

The institute's Director Lynn Orr says the money arrives at a time when government grants have dropped off and the university is cutting costs.

Lynn Orr: Our endowments have been hit just like everybody else's.

While the private sector money is desperately needed, it can raise questions. Both major donors have ties to industry. Precourt is an energy executive, and Steyer is partner at a firm that invests on behalf of universities. But Orr says the companies will get no special deals from the institute's work.

Orr: These are gifts to the university, and we will make the decisions inside the university about how the work is done and what research gets funded.

UC Berkeley ran into controversy when it started a similar energy institute backed by BP. And today, Chevron announced it would endow a $2.5 million energy chair at UC Davis.

For cash-strapped universities, it appears the private sector is the only option left.

Dan Greenberg: The ivory tower is gone.

Dan Greenberg wrote the book "Science for Sale."

Greenberg: The record seems to show that universities are much more interested in getting the money and getting on with the project than they are in protecting their traditional values.

Like, truth-seeking over profits.

President-elect Obama says he'll double funding for basic research. But that may not be nearly enough for innovation's expensive tastes.

I'm Janet Babin for Marketplace.


I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...

Sustainability Coverage

  • The Kendeda Fund
  • Wealth & Poverty Coverage

  • The Ford Foundation