Ronald Perelman, the son of one of Penn’s largest individual donors, is following in his parents’ footsteps.
The University announced Monday evening that Perelman, who earned his bachelor’s degree and MBA from Wharton in 1964 and 1966, has donated $25 million to create a new center for political science and economics on campus.
The Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics will be located at the West Philadelphia Trust Building — which currently houses offices like Counseling and Psychological Services — at the corner of 36th and Walnut streets.
Perelman, who said he would like to see the center ultimately become a “mini Davos,” hopes the donation will enable Penn to “break down global barriers.”
“I think every university should have a center where global ideas can be developed and dealt with, and where those across campus can have a platform from which to speak and learn to develop global positions,” said Perelman, who is also a member of Penn’s Board of Trustees.
The center marks Perelman’s single-largest gift to the University, surpassing his donation of $20 million in 1995 to create the Perelman Quadrangle.
In 2011, Perelman’s parents — Raymond and the late Ruth Perelman — donated $225 million to the now-renamed Perelman School of Medicine. To date, this remains the largest individual gift in Penn’s history.
Although both the Political Science and Economics departments will ultimately be moving from their current locations to the West Philadelphia Trust Building, Provost Vincent Price estimated that the relocation may not take place for a few years. The University is currently discussing plans to add on a “magnificent new structure” to what is already in place at 36th and Walnut Streets, he said.
There is currently no exact timetable for the construction process, Price added.
“When the opportunity came to find a great new space for political science and economics, we were absolutely thrilled,” School of Arts and Sciences Dean Rebecca Bushnell said. “It gives us a chance to support and really let shine two very important social science departments in the school.”
The Political Science Department has largely outgrown its current home in Stiteler Hall over the past several years, with some faculty members having to move into offices on Market Street because of a lack of space in the building.
Bushnell said that the opportunity to bring the department back together in one location — and to combine it with economics — is another benefit of the new center.
“Ron Perelman’s extraordinary generosity will enable us to create an outstanding center for political science and economics, two of Penn’s most popular undergraduate majors,” President Amy Gutmann said in a statement. “The Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics will transform the existing space into a magnificent new building that will combine two key academic departments in one central location.”
In addition to the two departments, the center will bring together a number of related offices across campus, including the Center for the Advanced Study of India, the Center for the Study of Contemporary China and the Christopher H. Browne Center for International Politics, Bushnell said.
“We’ll be able to bring together the best minds that we have in the study of social science and global issues,” she added.
Economics Department Chair Kenneth Wolpin praised the new center.
“Several of our faculty specialize in political economy and the department has an active political economy workshop,” he said in an email. “Although we cannot foresee exactly what collaborations might organically arise when the departments are housed together, it is clear that the intellectual environment of both departments will be enhanced, with benefits to students and faculty.”
Political Science Department Chair Edward Mansfield agreed, explaining that the center will also likely play host to a number of conferences, seminars and other events once it is open.
As the University works out construction plans for the center, Price said, it will simultaneously be looking for new spaces for CAPS and other administrative offices currently located in the West Philadelphia Trust Building.
“This is another significant advancement for the School of Arts and Sciences, having just undertaken construction of the Neural and Behavioral Sciences building,” he said. “We’re expecting this center to have the same critical impact on students, and we’re thrilled by that.”