Nike’s Phil Knight Gives UO $100M

In his recent $100 gift to the University of Oregon, Phil Knight stipulated that the gift was to cover operating expenses and not be used for constructing a new athletic facility. True to his accounting roots, Knight understands the importance of funding operating costs, rather than funding a building that has no operating budget. It was a brilliant forward thinking gesture.

Two aspects pertaining to the October 9, 2007 story in the Oregonian not discussed were Knight’s bitter conflict with the City of Beaverton’s attempt to annex Nike’s corporate campus and secondly Knight’s partnership with Robert Bass that received $100 in public pension assets (PERS) retirement funds to manage.

The conflict with the City of Beaverton resulted in a prolonged legal action by Nike and the ultimate search of City of Beaverton employees home and work computers regarding any reference to this annexation effort. To most observers this effort by Nike seemed extreme. It was led by Julia Brim Edwards, former Chair of the Portland Public Schools, whose husband is the sitting State Treasurer Randall Edwards.

Ironically, Edwards voted in the Spring of 2005 to give this private equity partnership in which Phil Knight and Robert Bass are the sole general partners $100 million of PERS funds to manage. At the same time Nike was bitterly fighting increased taxes to cover city services that would have resulted from annexation, taxes for which a large percent of would go to pay public employees, most notably teachers and police officers, future retirement costs.

If you are Phil Knight and in Oregon, you clearly have it your way, especially at the Oregonian who dared not discuss his receiving the PERS funds at the height of the conflict with the City of Beaverton. In addition, there has never been an article in the Oregonian discussing Knight’s investments.

To Knight’s credit, he has made terrific gifts to athletics at the University of Oregon. Perhaps some day he will also endow pure academics, for example language and literature programs.