Board of Regents approves ‘Gianforte Hall’ at Montana State University

Regents, president, describe $50M naming gift as ‘transformative’

By: - May 20, 2022 2:49 pm

Montana State University in Bozeman. (Provided by MSU for the Daily Montanan)

Gianforte Hall will be the name of a new computing building at Montana State University in Bozeman with approval this week by the Board of Regents and a $50 million gift from the Gianforte Family Foundation to MSU.

“We want to one more time thank the Gianforte Family Foundation for the generosity of this gift and what it represents for the future of not only Montana State University but actually for the students of the state of Montana,” said MSU President Waded Cruzado at the Regents meeting.

Gov. Greg Gianforte and First Lady Susan Gianforte are the lead trustees of the foundation, which also gave $8 million to MSU in 2016 for the Gianforte School of Computing. MSU earlier characterized the $50 million gift as tied for the second largest in the history of the campus. 

A Board of Regents policy on naming Montana University System property notes naming “in perpetuity should only be considered for transformative gifts” and states property may not be named after a person currently employed by the State of Montana. The policy notes Regents will not consider such a naming until at least one year after an individual has left public office or announced a leave of office.

Gov. Gianforte is in the second year of a four-year term. However, the rule also states the Regents may consider exceptions, such as for philanthropy that “warrants some form of recognition” or for “extenuating circumstances.”

At the meeting, at least a couple of Regents described the gift as “transformative.” President Cruzado argued the size of the donation alone would meet the definition on any campus, but she also said the money allows MSU to focus hands-on, interdisciplinary education in the “realm of the future” and grow connections with industry partners, such as a recently announced $20 million collaboration with Hyundai.

In April, MSU held a required listening session on the proposed naming, and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported that faculty, students and staff spoke against it, sharing concerns about the governor’s assault on a reporter and anti-LGBTQ laws he signed, among other objections.

At this week’s meeting, two students from the University of Montana raised similar objections to the naming. O’Shay Birdinground, a senator with the Associated Students of the University of Montana, said an argument can be made that the donation warrants recognition, but no argument can take back some of the governor’s actions.

“In my opinion, the naming of the building after the governor and his family would do more harm than good,” Birdinground said.

Garrett Miglin noted being involved in an LGBT group and “open and affirming” Lutheran group on campus, and the UM law student voiced “strong opposition” to the naming. Miglin said Gianforte donates to groups that support denying people who are gay and transgender their civil rights and has signed discriminatory legislation.

“A monument to Gov. Gianforte will be a commemoration to these legislative priorities as much as it would be a commemoration of his donation to MSU,” Miglin said.

Miglin also argued the Regents would be better off naming the building after a transformative educator, such as May Trumper, the superintendent of public instruction elected in 1916.

Regents, however, praised the gift. Chair Casey Lozar said he would oppose the naming simply as a matter of timing and suggested the board should wait to take action on a naming in perpetuity for the waiting period the policy states. However, he also said he was absolutely grateful for “the very sizable gift” from Gianforte.

“Certainly, he has a long track record, philanthropic track record, of supporting MSU since they moved to Montana,” Lozar said.

At the meeting, the Regents also approved a request from MSU to start design on the new facility, which will put under one roof faculty and staff currently spread across five buildings, according to MSU. MSU noted the Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects a 22 percent growth in computer and information research science employment from 2022 to 2030.

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. In Montana since 1998, she loves hiking in Glacier National Park, wandering the grounds of the Archie Bray and sitting on her front porch with friends. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana. She worked there from 2006 to 2020. As a Missoulian reporter, she was named a co-fellow by the Education Writers Association to report on a series about economic mobility; grantee of the Society of Environmental Journalists for a project on conservation from the U.S. to Africa; and Kiplinger Fellow in Digital Media and Public Affairs Journalism. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune and Missoula Independent, and she earned her master’s in journalism from the University of Montana. She lives in Missoula with her husband, Brock, who is also her favorite chef, and her pup, Henry, who is her favorite adventure companion. She believes she deserves to wear the T-shirt with this saying: “World’s most mediocre runner.”