Billionaire to Give $100 Mil for Free Online University : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

Billionaire to Give $100 Million for Free Online University Michael Saylor, CEO of MicroStrategy. (Todd Cross - Washington Post File Photo)

E-Mail This Article Printer-Friendly Version By Cindy Loose Washington Post Staff Writer Wednesday, March 15, 2000; Page A01

Local high-tech billionaire Michael Saylor will announce tomorrow that he has donated $100 million as a down payment toward creating an online university that he says will offer an "Ivy League-quality" education to anyone in the world  free.

He envisions online courses that would include lectures from the world's "geniuses and leaders." They would be videotaped at a studio to be built somewhere in the Washington area in coming months, Saylor said in an interview. Eventually, he wants his nonprofit university to become "a cyber Library of Congress."

The handful of people who know about Saylor's plan so far are intrigued even if they are not convinced that it will have the impact he anticipates. Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, president of George Washington University, said that "we're at the vestibule of distance learning" and don't yet know its capacity or limitations. But, he added, "we have to start that process, and Saylor's initiative is a bold and constructive beginning."

Saylor himself said: "Done right, this will impact the lives of millions of people forever. Done wrong, it's just noise in a can." Whether it will be done right remains to be seen: As yet, there is no structure, no staff, no specific curriculum, no estimate of the final cost.

The audacious scope of the plan is vintage Saylor, who is no stranger to doubters. The 35-year-old chief executive of the software company MicroStrategy had barely finished his degree at Massachusetts Institute of Technology when he began talking of creating a multibillion-dollar company. Some considered his pronouncements boastful, grandiose, even egomaniacal  until he made good on them.

His 44 million shares of MicroStrategy  he owns just over half the company headquartered in Tysons Corner  were worth about $13 billion on paper as of yesterday. Saylor characterized his initial donation of $10 million to the charity as a deposit.

"I'll contribute more over time until it's done," he said. "Other philanthropists might want to come on board. If not, I'll do it myself."

Saylor plans to make his announcement at the Greater Washington Business Philanthropy Summit in Washington, started three years ago to encourage increased philanthropy in the region.

Saylor's announcement will end the conjecture about what the richest man in the region  and one of the richest in the world  might decide to do in the way of charity. He began contributing stock to his personal foundation, the Saylor Foundation, about a year ago.

Saylor will need to set up a charity to use the money he has placed in his foundation. He said he will soon begin hiring people to run the charity, including a head  most likely a dean of a major university  along with curriculum experts, writers, editors, producers, marketers, hardware experts and "computer people to make it dynamic and interactive."

He then plans to begin soliciting contributors to his "genius knowledge bank." Employees of the new charity will be working on the idea within nine months, he said.

Saylor is the latest of the new high-tech billionaires to begin figuring out how to spend their wealth. Steve Case, America Online founder who will share the dais with Saylor tomorrow, has put more than $100 million in his foundation. Bill Gates, founder of MicroSoft Corp., has pledged $1 billion in scholarships to minorities, among other donations. Like Saylor, Gates made announcements before having all the details worked out. Saylor calls traditional contributions for things such as scholarships "20th-century philanthropy," adding that "I want to do 21st-century philanthropy." He said he would chair the new, as yet unnamed charity.

Saylor is not planning to pay those who will be asked to lecture before the cameras.

"People line up and fight to get on the Charlie Rose show," Saylor said. "I think they'll fight to get into the studio. It gives a great calculus teacher the chance to teach 100 million people."

People who are not famous will do it for recognition, Saylor said, while famous people will do it for posterity.

"If [Andrew] Carnegie were alive today, this would be his library," Saylor said. "People will want to be part of it." If it turns out he's wrong, he said, he'll figure out another approach  "maybe royalties," he said.

He envisions a course on the Vietnam War that will include videotapes not only of the fighting but also of Henry Kissinger and Robert McNamara talking about their reasons for escalating the war.

He said he's discussed the idea with famous people interested in cooperating. In several weeks, he said, he will announce endorsements from senators, Cabinet-level people, well-known educators.

Trachtenberg agreed that people may initially see participation as a status symbol and be "pleased and flattered" to be invited to lecture. But eventually, he added, "this is America, and compensation is always appreciated."

Several senators are on record as applauding the idea. Saylor said he's talked to members of Congress about allowing students to use federal grants to buy the hardware and software needed.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said he is examining federal education programs to see how they might "support and promote this." Other online universities have pioneered cyberspace. A variety of degrees are available from an ever-growing number of Internet sites  some of them created simply for cyberspace, and some attached to existing universities.

GWU offers a master's in education and human development. The University of Maryland offers campus-free bachelor's degrees in a number of subjects. Most universities are experimenting with distance learning or figuring out how to get into the exploding field.

None, however, are free. And Saylor's dream of capturing the best minds in the world is unique in its scope.

Traditional universities might feel threatened, he said, and might object to their professors coming to Saylor's studios. But they'll just have to get used to the idea.

"Universities will lose control of knowledge, as they should. We all share the right to our leaders and geniuses," Saylor said.

Teachers should feel no more threatened by online lectures than by books or filmstrips, he said. Administrators, he predicted, will undergo a period of skepticism and fear, just as the educated of the world once feared the printing press until they realized that they could thrive in a world where other people could read, too.

"They'll bow to the inevitable," Saylor said. "It will happen without them; it would happen without me. It's too good an idea."

The idea came to him, he said, over the New Year's holiday, while sailing a yacht off St. Bart's in the Caribbean. He and two friends were discussing what they ought to do in the way of charity.

Joseph E. Robert Jr., an area philanthropist and chief executive of J.E. Robert Cos. who was on that trip, said: "Michael waxed on about how there was no reason someone in a jungle in Colombia couldn't get first-rate exposure to the finest teachers in the world through the Internet."

By the end of the trip, Robert said, Saylor had figured out what he wanted to do, and how he would do it. "He thinks at warp speed," Robert said.

Mark Bisnow, a spokesman for MicroStrategy, said the bottom line is that Saylor truly believes in the power of technology. The company sells software that allows businesses to mine vast amounts of data and run more efficiently. "We're a cutting-edge company," Bisnow said. "Michael wants his philanthropy to be cutting-edge."

) 2000 The Washington Post Company

-- suzy (suzy@nowhere.come), March 15, 2000


Thank you Suzy, for your post.

-- Very (, March 15, 2000.

There are those who say that Saylor is an ego-maniacal snake-oil merchant, who's company - Microstrategy - is possibly the most overvalued piece of crap in the history of commerce. I, of course, would never say such a thing ;) But this guy does...

internet bubble monitor -

-- number six (, March 15, 2000.

Still, it's nice to know that the conscience of a multi-billionaire is troubled enough to actually do a good deed. (I'm assuming that what is being proposed IS a good deed--don't know). How much of this is just yet more egomania remains to be seen.

Neat idea, though, to setup the seed money for a college without walls, available to anyone with a window to the 'net. Democratization of knowledge and all that. One possible hidden danger is the standardization of learning, especially the 'texts'. An even worse problem could be the manipulation of information as in 1984. In an era when Pinocchio-nosed politicians can claim they invented the internet in their spare time while at college this IS a very real and present danger.

-- StayTuned (There', March 15, 2000.

Last week, Microstrategy were $330 per share, today they're $99 and dropping. And it is no fun saying I told you so, (firstly cos why would you care? ;) ) and secondly because I didn't buy any puts! It's tough trying to time when insanity will run it's course. Microstrategy are now back down to a "sane" 521 p/e.

So if my prescience means any thing to you, (and maybe it shouldn't because I sure got that yk2 thing wrong!), well get out there and do yerself a favour, and buy TOUP. These guys won't just turn a handy profit, they're gonna reshape the civilisation. (Yes i own some, no this isn't stock advice etc..)

(oy! Enough with the exagerrated predictions from y2k-nuts!)

honest, TOUP = best thing since sliced bread, bigger than Jesus, etc.

-- number six (, March 20, 2000.

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