Donor, Provost’s Office give $1.75 million to philosophy department

The donation will be used for research, fellowship subsidies and faculty support.

Aaron Job

The University of Minnesota’s Department of Philosophy received the largest donation in the program’s history last Wednesday.

Dr. Stephen Setterberg of PrairieCare — a local psychiatric health care provider — donated more than $1.2 million to the department.

The donation, which will be allotted in increments over the next five years, will be endowed by the University of Minnesota Foundation. The resulting interest, coupled with the Provost’s Office’s decision to match $500,000, will be used for programming efforts — like fellowship subsidies, faculty support and research opportunities, said Department of Philosophy Chair Valerie Tiberius.

“Setterberg’s gift is absolutely transformative,” Tiberius said in a press release. “It will allow us to support the research of the amazing philosophers in our community and to recruit new world-class faculty to join us.”

Setterberg gave the philosophy department $225,000 up front, in part, to revitalize stagnant programs, said University spokesperson Kelly O’Brien.

“Hopefully they can implement better classes with more materials. … Just to have resources beyond what we do would be really cool,” said philosophy student Blongsha Hang. “Philosophy kind of isn’t the go-to major for young people. Not a lot of people take philosophy courses. Therefore, there isn’t support from the public or even just the school itself.”

Setterberg said such a lack of support is why he made the donation.

“The College of Liberal Arts is a bit under-the-gun, in terms of its place in the education system with budget cuts that have happened over the last 10 [to] 20 years,” Setterberg said. “I think there’s a sort of general diminished awareness of the value of a liberal arts education compared to something pragmatic or technical, clearly related to an economic outcome. That’s also what I was responding to.”

Setterberg, who has been donating annually for the past 15 years, said he valued his time as an undergraduate philosophy student in the ’80s; the latest donation was largely spurred by a meeting with Tiberius and Dean John Coleman last spring, where the three discussed the intersection of social science and philosophy.

Colleen Donahue, the director of development in the Office of Institutional Advancement, said the Department of Philosophy has received nearly $1.5 million in gifts from individuals over the last decade, including Setterberg’s commitment.

O’Brien said the donation was “very significant” for Setterberg.

As a whole, Donahue said, the College of Liberal Arts raised more than $16.4 million in donations, adding that departments with large numbers of alumni typically receive more money than smaller programs.

With the philosophy department toting one of the smallest total student head counts in CLA, O’Brien said the Provost’s Office’s decision to match $500,000 with Setterberg’s donation was noteworthy.

“Not a lot of people see philosophy as a way to get scholarships or even a way to get internship opportunities,” Hang said. “Because of this donation, hopefully the department is able to start opening up things where they could give more scholarships and attract students through that.”