Last week, Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) trustee Thomas Duff and his brother Jim donated $26 million to the university toward the construction of a new science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) building.
The 202,000-square-foot building, which is set to cost $160 million total, was originally scheduled to break ground in 2018 and open in 2020, but it has been continually delayed. Construction is now slated to begin later this year.
The Duffs committed the money prior to the IHL Board of Trustees’s January meeting in which the board voted to name the STEM building as the Jim and Thomas Duff Center for Science and Technology Innovation.
In that same meeting, Thomas Duff motioned to delay the vote to relocate the Confederate monument on campus from the Circle to the Confederate cemetery. The vote was originally scheduled to take place during that Jan. 16 meeting.
“There is no relationship at all between the STEM building gift and the decision to pull the relocation of the monument from the IHL agenda at its January meeting,” university spokesperson Rod Guajardo said. “Discussions about the gift were underway for several months prior to that meeting. These items simply happened to be discussed at the same IHL meeting.”
Jarvis Benson, an alumnus who was a member of the 2018-2019 Associated Student Body (ASB) Senate, said he had thought considerably about the apparent relationship between Duff and university administration following the donation.
Benson was one of the eight co-authors of the resolution to relocate the monument, and he said that since its passage in the ASB Senate, he has been continually embarrassed by the university’s decisions regarding relocation.
“The (university) administration continues to show that they are complacent in allowing the rich to control (the university),” he said. “I wish they would follow the lead of students and faculty calling for no-confidence in IHL instead of accepting gifts from board members.”
Barron Mayfield, the current ASB president, has continuously expressed support for the relocation of the Confederate monument, but he said he does not see any connection between the donation and the tabling of the resolution. Mayfield said he thinks the new STEM building will enhance opportunities for students in the classroom and after graduation.
“It’s good for our students, it’s good for Ole Miss and it’s good for the state,” Mayfield said. “I trust that the Duff brothers — like all members of the Ole Miss community — love the university and want what is best for it.”
Following IHL approval on Jan. 16, Chancellor Glenn Boyce announced the donation on Feb. 5 in a university-wide email thanking the Duffs for the gift, which he said was one of the largest in the history of the university.
“This commitment is more than a gift,” Boyce said in the email. “It is an investment by the Duffs in our vision to produce graduates who fulfill critical needs and prepare them for rewarding careers.”
The building will house lecture halls for chemistry, biology, physics, engineering and computer science classes, and a university press release from Feb. 5 said that the classrooms will emphasize “technology-enabled active learning.” The university also plans to construct a visualization lab, similar to “a small IMAX theater.”
“We applaud the Duffs for recognizing and addressing the crucial need to increase the number of graduates in STEM fields to fuel growth and innovation,” Boyce said.