OSU receives $50 million to transform agriculture college
STILLWATER — A $50 million gift will rename and rebuild the agricultural college at Oklahoma State University and brings one of the largest donations in school history to the university’s academic origin.
The College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources will be renamed for OSU alumni Kayleen and Larry Ferguson, who pledged a $25 million endowment for college operations and $25 million to launch a fundraising campaign for a new building.
OSU will build a $100 million facility for the Ferguson College of Agriculture, with construction beginning in spring 2021.
“I think having that noteworthy of a gift come for our college of agriculture, it supports the heritage of the institution,” said Tom Coon, dean of the agriculture college. “At the same time, it’s not just about the past. It’s about projecting our college forward as a leader nationally and internationally.”
Expected to open in fall 2023, the new building would replace the aging Agricultural Hall, which has been in operation since 1957. Coon said two architectural evaluations have shown the building reached the end of its serviceable life.
The new facility would be built diagonally across from the original agriculture building on a parking lot east of Monroe Street and north of the Henry Bellmon Research Center. Three sections of the building would be dedicated to academics, research and student services.
Updated labs would allow for team-based research, and the building would contain flexible classrooms that allow for hands-on, experiential learning, unlike Agricultural Hall where tables and chairs are bolted to the floor.
Agriculture has been at the core of OSU’s foundations since the university was established in 1890. Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College, as it was known in its earliest days, was founded as a land-grant university dedicated to education in agriculture.
OSU announced the $50 million donation on Wednesday during a celebration at the Stillwater campus, with remarks from Gov. Kevin Stitt, Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture Blayne Arthur, OSU President Burns Hargis, Coon and the Fergusons. Though not the largest single donation OSU has ever received, Hargis identified the gift as one of the biggest contributions in the university's 130-year history.
“A lead gift like this doesn’t come along very often," Hargis said. "In fact, I don’t remember it ever coming along. Today, the impact on the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources is going to soar, even more than it already has.”
Starting with $25 million of the Fergusons’ gift, the university is seeking to raise another $25 million in private support for the new agriculture building, amounting to half the facility’s costs. The university is expected to cover the second half of the $100 million.
The fundraising campaign, known as New Frontiers, has collected $30 million in private funds so far, including the Fergusons’ donation.
“Yes, it may have our name on the building, but you are the agricultural family," Kayleen Ferguson said in her address Wednesday. "We’d like you to join us in this venture for the future, inspiring others, furthering research."
Larry and Kayleen Ferguson already have given $55 million to OSU, including the lead gift for the Ferguson Family Dairy Center, which opened in 2017. The couple met as students at OSU in 1975 and live in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Larry Ferguson is the retired president and CEO of Schreiber Foods, a dairy company specializing in cheese and yogurt. Kayleen Ferguson is a retired educator.
"We want to be able to impact people throughout the world and help feed the world," Larry Ferguson said Wednesday. "I really believe that Oklahoma State can be a center point, can be a light in feeding the people of the world. It’ll make a tremendous difference.”
Private dollars have been critical as state funding for higher education has decreased in Oklahoma, Coon said. Today, state higher education receives $200 million less than 10 years ago, when the Oklahoma Legislature appropriated more than $1 billion to the state’s colleges and universities.
State lawmakers passed a budget of $802 million for higher education this fiscal year, up from $776.7 million the year before.
“We’ve taken tremendous cuts,” Coon said. “When you’re trimming and reducing staffing and faculty, the last thing you want to do is use your dwindling resources on infrastructure. This state has had a pattern of not investing in infrastructure in universities. The private sector really makes up the difference. I don’t think we’d be in business without that.”