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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 9:44 am

George Washington health school named for Milken

WASHINGTON (AP) George Washington University will name its public health school for Michael Milken, a philanthropist and advocate for medical research, after three record-setting gifts totaling $80 million for the school.

The gifts announced Tuesday are notable, in part, because Milken was known as the king of Wall Street "junk" bonds in the 1980s and spent 22 months in prison. But he has also become a leading philanthropist for public health and an advocate for increased government research funding.

The gifts include $40 million from the Milken Institute to support research and scholarships and $30 million from the Sumner M. Redstone Charitable Foundation to expand wellness and disease prevention. A $10 million gift from the Milken Family Foundation will support a new scholarship program and dean's endowment.

The gifts connected to Redstone, board chairman of Viacom and CBS, and Milken will create the Milken Institute School of Public Health and the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness.

George Washington University President Steven Knapp and School of Public Health Dean Lynn Goldman told The Associated Press they were not worried about any backlash in renaming the school for someone with a criminal past.

"We're talking about somebody who over a number of decades has made a difference that's incalculable to the lives of people in this nation and around the world through what he has done, particularly in the fields of medicine and health," Knapp said. "I think he has certainly earned his recognition as the foremost philanthropist focused on addressing the challenges of national and global health."

Goldman said the gift would be transformative for the school as it moves into a new $75 million building next to the university's hospital.

It's a relatively new school of public health that has been growing in recent years with an expanded focus on addressing chronic disease and diseases related to obesity.

"All I can say is that I'm just simply delighted to see philanthropy turning their attention to prevention because I think there's a bigger bang for their buck," Goldman said. "It's about time that people began to recognize that while it's important to develop cures, that it's also important to prevent disease."

Milken, 67, is a prostate cancer survivor who has long been an active philanthropist and advocate for medical research. His career as a cutting-edge financier ended with a prison term. He was known as the king of high-risk, high-interest "junk" bond in the 1980s and came to symbolize the excesses and greed of Wall Street run amok. In business, Milken pioneered the use of the bonds to finance corporate takeover battles and became a dominant force in the 1980s takeover boom.

After his release from prison, Milken was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He has focused full-time on philanthropy and a bid to restore his reputation. Milken and his family have given hundreds of millions of dollars away in recent decades. Much of it is channeled through the Santa Monica, Calif.-based Milken Family Foundation, founded in 1982, which funds education and medical research, especially in the cancer field.

The university board on Monday unanimously approved naming the school and dean's post for the Milken donations and the new center for Redstone, Knapp said. Now the school will be positioned to have an influence on health policy in Washington, he said.

"If we're really going to get a handle on health care costs as a national and global issue," Knapp said, "there's really got to be an important emphasis on prevention and wellness that Michael Milken is now pushing."

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Associated Press writer Marcy Gordon contributed to this report.