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SOU announces largest ever gift to university valued at $12 million from Lithia Motors


Administrators at Southern Oregon University announced the largest gift in the school’s 150-year history on Wednesday night. Approximately $12 million will be donated to SOU from Lithia Motors, the Medford-based auto dealership.

The ten-year donation has two priorities, according to administrators: sustainability and diversity. $4 million will fund a new Institute for Applied Sustainability, $5 million will go to scholarships for students and a leadership development program, and additional funding will help efforts to electrify the SOU campus and help install electric vehicle charging stations.

SOU President Rick Bailey said he was excited about the new public-private partnership between the campus and Lithia Motors, and their online electric vehicle resource GreenCars.

“Institute members will work collaboratively with our partners at Lithia and GreenCars to develop innovative projects that move the needle on applied sustainability and not just regionally, but nationally,” Bailey said.

Lithia Motors CEO Bryan DeBoer echoed the potential to increase collaborations between SOU and the auto company.

“It’s the least that we can do. We hope that our people can get involved as well. Anything you need in curriculum or research or research projects or to get connected to new biofuels or those type of things, we’re there for you and our people are there for you,” DeBoer said.

According to Vince Smith, the new director of the Institute for Applied Sustainability, the donation will add to the variety of sustainability-oriented programs featured at SOU. The university is proposing new programs in corporate sustainability and a new MBA in sustainable business, as well as plans to host a conference in corporate sustainability.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.