Eugene Lang gives $50 million to Swarthmore College

    Swarthmore College is receiving its largest gift ever.

    Philanthropist Eugene Lang, 93, is giving $50 million to his alma mater. The donation knocks into second place the $30 million he gave in 1997.

    The latest gift will go mostly toward new engineering and science facilities, with the goal of building connections to other liberal arts disciplines.

    “I think it’s just one terrific place,” Lang told WHYY. “I feel very, very proud to have had the privilege of being here, but also to be a protagonist for the values that it represents.”

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    Lang has given tens of millions to Swarthmore, stretching back to 1975. The Lang name is already etched across campus on at least three buildings.

    “It’s never about just the money for Mr. Lang,” said Swarthmore president Rebecca Chopp. “It’s always about how he can recognize initiatives and how he can help move the institution forward.”

    Swarthmore is one of only nine premier liberal arts colleges with a dedicated engineering program, officials say. But a 2011 strategic plan called the department’s current facilities “seriously inadequate for the needs of a contemporary engineering program.”

    The building was constructed in 1919, the same year Lang was born.

    “This $50 million gift will allow us … to get state-of-the-art facilities,” Chopp said. “It’s about bringing all the disciplines together around how do we design, create, support, sustain and move forward innovation in this century.”

    Lang graduated from Swarthmore in 1938 at the age of 19. He went on to found the pioneering (and, at times, controversial) intellectual property firm Refac Technology Development Corporation. The patent firm had a hand in digital displays, ATMs, credit card verification systems and many other technologies.

    Lang has also given tens of millions to Columbia University and the New School in New York City. In 1986, he founded the national “I Have a Dream” Foundation. In 1996, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.

    “I’ve found that giving is largely a question of developing an instinct for where money will do good,” Lang said. “I thought it would be very important for an institution which has meant so much in my life.”

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