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$100M Donation Largest Ever

Alum Kenan E. Sahin Announces Gift at Campaign Gala Ball

By Douglas E. Heimburger

MIT received the largest gift in its history Saturday night as Kenan E. Sahin ’63 donated $100 million to the Institute as part of its new capital campaign.

Sahin founded Kenan Systems, which was acquired by Lucent Technologies earlier this year in a $1.48 billion stock swap. The donation was announced Saturday evening during a black-tie gala celebrating the capital campaign in Rockwell Cage.

The unrestricted gift will be distributed by a team including MIT Corporation Chairman Alexander V. d’Arbeloff ’49, former presidents Paul E. Gray ’54 and Howard W. Johnson, and current President Charles M. Vest. “I will be strongly guided by what they see” as priorities for the Institute, Sahin said in an interview Monday.

“During the gala dinner, I thought the time had come,” to give, Sahin said. “I have been, since the merger with Lucent, wanting to be of assistance” to the Institute.

No one at the gala, including Vest, knew that Sahin would be making a donation. “I approached Chuck and told him I had an announcement to make, but I wouldn’t tell him what ... I thought it was very brave of Chuck to let me speak.”

The donation is the largest in MIT history and one of the largest in the history of all higher education. Of the $100 million, $70 million will be made immediately, while $30 million will provide matching gifts for others funding the capital campaign.

Sahin spent 17 years in academia at MIT, Harvard, and the University of Massachusetts before founding Kenan Systems with an initial investment of $1,000 in 1982. The company developed customer care software for billing, order management, and decision support.

Sahin still serves as the president of the Kenan Systems branch of Lucent Technologies and a vice president at Bell Labs. “I am aiming to take some of the very best ideas from MIT and my experiences and use them at Lucent Technologies and its Bell Laboratories,” Sahin said in a statement.

Donors learn about plans

During Saturday’s kickoff event, around 550 donors gathered to learn MIT’s plans from an educational and physical perspective.

Noted economists Olivier J. Blanchard ’77, Paul R. Krugman ’77, Stanley Fisher, and Stephen A. Ross spoke on where they predicted the economy to turn in the next century during a lunch in Johnson Athletic Center. All four have served or are serving on the economics faculty at the Institute.

During the last session, landscape architect Laurie Olin discussed the long-term campus plan for the Institute.

MIT has “one of the most famous circulation systems in the world,” Olin said. However, “landscape really isn’t a green sauce that you pour over buildings to make them taste better,” and MIT needs to make progress in its overall look and feel.

The recent developments at MIT are “a drop in the bucket” in terms of what is needed, Olin said. Vassar Street, for example, is “like being in North Dakota with the wind coming across it.”

In the long run, to improve the aesthetics of the campus, Olin suggests placing a skating pond in the middle of new green space between Buildings 56, 66, and the Stata Complex, where parking would be removed.

Additionally, to provide a legally-required rainwater collection area, a stream would be created along Vassar Street to provide a barrier between the street and Briggs Field.

Looking on a grander scale, Olin proposed a student center under Killian Court connecting Building 1 and 2 and completing the main quadrangle of buildings. He also suggested moving Memorial Drive inward to focus green space along the Charles River Basin.

Noted architect Frank O. Gehry, who is designing the Ray and Maria Stata Complex, also discussed his plans for the building.

Gehry said that initial plans called for an all-brick building, but the budget could not afford complete brick. Instead, he decided to “stretch and get things more interesting.”

The new center will feature two lecture halls and space for the Laboratory for Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory as well as the Department of Linguistics.

It will have “a courtyard to die for” as well as a child care center. It has “a bit of humor in it,” Gehry said.

A model of the Stata Complex is located in the Student Center for public viewing this week as part of the kickoff for the capital campaign. Construction is scheduled to start next year, with occupancy in 2003.