Berkshire Hathaway Vice President Charles Munger is one of UC Santa Barbara’s all-time largest donors, and the sum of his philanthropy is only increasing.
Over $125 million has been gifted by the 99-year-old billionaire, who for nearly a decade has sought to build a namesake student dormitory at UCSB. The 2021 unveiling of Munger Hall and its largely windowless design that replaced previously planned student apartments sparked local and national backlash.
Munger continually makes $500,000 annual gifts to UCSB in support of the university’s Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, gifted through the Alfred C. Munger Foundation, UCSB Media Relations Manager Kiki Reyes confirmed in a statement to the Nexus.
The billionaire also fronted the entirety of the university’s operations at the mock-up for his proposed student dormitory and continues to fund the project, Reyes said. The Goleta warehouse has served as a testbed f0r various Munger Hall designs over the years.
This recurring funding by Munger adds to his extensive history of philanthropy at the university. He donated $65.4 million in stocks to fund the Charles T. Munger Physics Residence of his design and primarily financed a $70 million purchase and donation of Las Varas Ranch to the university in 2018.
Munger is also expected to contribute an undetermined amount of funding toward the construction of Munger Hall in what he has previously said would be the largest gift he has ever made.
At a March 24, 2016 UC Regents meeting, the university announced its initial concept for Munger Hall, and Munger announced his plans to gift $200 million that would serve as seed funding for the residence hall. The gift was never made, as the Nexus reported last July, but the falsehood has remained prevalent in some news coverage of the dormitory.
The 202-page report excoriating the proposed residence hall, issued by an Academic Senate panel tasked with examining the dormitory on Nov. 15, appeared to also operate under that falsehood, which it repeats several times throughout the report.
An economic analysis of the proposed dormitory conducted for the report by UCSB economics professor Henning Bohn determined that Munger needs to donate at least $700 million of the dorm’s estimated $1.5 billion construction costs for it to be affordable.
A $700 million donation amount would by far be the largest gift ever made to UCSB — outstripping the combined total of every single gift made to the university over the past five years, an examination of publicly available donation records shows.
“For Munger Hall to be considered affordable, the donor’s contribution must be sufficiently generous that housing charges for UCSB students will stay unchanged or can be reduced,” Bohn said in the report.
Bohn found that for every additional $100 million donated to the university towards housing, student rent can be reduced across the board by $50 per student for every student residing in a campus residence.
Munger’s potential funding — if sizable enough — would serve to significantly benefit a campus that sorely lacks funding for new housing, Bohn said. He estimated that for UCSB to construct 3,500 bed spaces at once in the absence of donor funding, the university would need to increase the rents of all campus housing by 25% to cover the costs.
Bohn added that if the university attempted to gradually construct housing at the pace of Sierra Madre and San Joaquin, it would not complete the construction of all 3,500 beds until 2045. Furthermore, the university would need to increase rents for on-campus housing by 25-30% over that time to finance it, without even factoring in future inflation.
New money for UC-wide campus housing exists in the 2021-22 and 2022-23 State Budget agreements, but the funding only covers the construction of new residences following future enrollment increases, not to make up for past enrollment increases, according to the report.
“UCSB housing estimates that Munger Hall will have about $21M annual operating Costs. This is more per bed than in current UCSB housing, reflecting the operating cost of relatively expensive amenities,” Bohn wrote in the report. “A very large donation will be required to make the building affordable.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 1 of the Feb. 16, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.