Portland State University announced Thursday its top donor has made a new $5 million dollar gift, completing the school’s fundraising campaign to renovate a key building, Neuberger Hall.
The gift came from PSU alumnus Fariborz Maseeh, an Iranian-American investor and engineer.
At an event celebrating his gift to the school, Maseeh criticized president Donald Trump’s travel ban and thanked the university’s outgoing president, Wim Wiewel, for his “bold stand” on the issue.
“History has shown over and over that categoric discrimination has never worked, whether it was levied against the Irish, Italians, Chinese, Japanese, Jews, blacks, gays, lesbians and now against Mexicans and Muslims,” Maseeh told a small crowd of PSU leaders and press.
President Trump’s order places a 90-day ban on travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries, including Maseeh’s native Iran. The other countries are Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the ban can partially go into effect pending its ruling on a legal challenge.
Neuberger Hall, the building slated for renovation, is home to PSU’s English, math and art departments, as well as the admissions office. Wiewel described it as a windowless bunker with a squalid basement.
“We like to call it the university’s front door. We also know it’s not a very pretty front door,” he said.
The state Legislature promised $60 million in bonds to renovate the building on the condition that PSU raise $10 million to complete the project.
Wiewel, who is leaving PSU this summer to take a position as president of Lewis and Clark College, described the renovation as part of a broader effort to improve PSU’s reputation.
“We are still on the rise,” he said. “We are going to continue to get better. That expresses itself in our buildings, and how the campus looks, and also in our programs.”
In addition to Maseeh’s gift, Portland philanthropist Jordan Schnitzer gave $4 million for the renovation.
After Maseeh graduated from PSU, he obtained a doctorate at MIT and then founded a tech company, Intellisense. It sold for $750 million in 2000.
Maseeh’s previous contributions to PSU include more than $12 million for scholarships, fellowships and endowed professorships. PSU’s College of Engineering and Computer Science and the Department of Mathematics and Statistics have been named for him.
“PSU helped me when I needed help,” Maseeh said, explaining his gifts.
Maseeh said he views PSU as a start-up. He described the university as young institution in a great location, in a city that’s attracting high-tech businesses.
“From a logical standpoint, why not invest in a place like this, and build it up? Because it has a lot higher potential,” he said.
Maseeh said his path to the United States began when he was a 17-year-old student in Tehran, trying to study math in the final years of the regime of the Shah.
His classes kept getting cancelled due to fighting between political factions on campus.
“That was the main driver for me to get out,” he said.
Maseeh said he applied to several American universities. PSU was the first to send him back an acceptance letter, just two weeks later.
“I arrived at Portland State in March 1977, right in front of Neuberger Hall,” he said. “It was a Saturday and it was raining.”
Maseeh said he didn’t know where to go and campus police helped him find a hotel that day.
Maseeh said if he had been born four decades later, he’s not sure he would have made it to the United States.
He described the travel ban as a policy that punishes people living under politically oppressive regimes in the Middle East.
“Statistically, amongst those people, there are a lot of bright, innovative people,” he said. “We should go and try to get those people, kind of save them from the oppression of their governments and the circumstances of their politics.”
PSU currently has 51 students from the six countries included in the travel ban.