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Roy and Diana Vagelos recently donated $83.9 million to the School of Arts and Sciences, the largest single gift ever made to the school.

Credit: Angela Ye

1950 College graduate P. Roy Vagelos and his wife Diana Vagelos made an $83.9 million donation to the School of Arts and Sciences — marking the largest gift to Penn since multiple high-profile donors withdrew their funding last fall.

Vagelos is a former chief executive officer of Merck & Co, a pharmaceutical manufacturing company, and served as chair of Penn's Board of Trustees from 1994 to 1999. The donation supports science initiatives and is the largest single gift ever made to SAS, according to the announcement

“Diana and I have always been great believers in the power of basic science to find solutions to global problems,” Vagelos wrote in the announcement. 

Vagelos, who majored in chemistry, directed $50 million of the gift directly to the Department of Chemistry’s graduate program, allowing for the creation of 20 Vagelos Fellow positions. It will also fund an endowed chair in chemistry, student leader awards in three undergraduate programs bearing Vagelos’s name, and a permanent endowment for the Vagelos Institute for Energy Science and Technology.

In the announcement, Interim Penn President Larry Jameson described the Vagelos legacy as having "an enduring impact on generations to come."

“We are deeply committed to their bold vision for what Penn can accomplish, from discoveries in the lab to inspiring students in the classroom," Jameson wrote.

The donation is the largest gift to the University since the fall of last year, when dozens of donors announced that they would halt funding in response to the University’s handling of campus controversies related to the Israel-Hamas War, antisemitism, and the Palestine Writes Literature Festival. Both former Penn President Liz Magill and former University Board of Trustees Chair Scott Bok resigned as a result of the donor pushback and national scrutiny.

Last semester, Penn became the epicenter of conversations related to the influence of donors on University decision-making and leadership as well as academic freedom. The events of last semester raised questions about the academic and financial implications of the halted donations on the University. 

The Vagelos’ financial support of Penn Arts & Sciences, which is directed towards innovation and science, now totals $239 million.

Dean and Thomas S. Gates, Jr. Professor of Psychology, Pharmacology, and Neuroscience Steven J. Fluharty wrote that the recent gift "caps off the incomparable impact" the Vagelos family has made on scientific research and education at SAS. 

“Supporting talented graduate students and bringing them together with the best faculty is the most promising path to breakthrough discoveries addressing not only the challenges that are facing us today, but ones that we have not yet imagined,” Fluharty wrote.

He also recognized the success of the Vagelos Institute, writing that "the School has been able to realize — and surpass — its greatest ambitions within the study of energy, sustainability, and the environment" as a result of their donations. 

In the announcement, Vagelos said that the investment in students and faculty aims to advance scientific discoveries, such as curing diseases and tackling climate change. 

“We hope that these funds will also help make this work more accessible and increase diversity among faculty and students pursuing these solutions," Vagelos continued. “We are proud to help keep Penn at the forefront of science education and research.”