Putting past behind him, Ted Turner ’60 builds strong relationship with University

By
Monday, September 20, 2004

Ted Turner ’60 spent three years at Brown and left without graduating. But with a net worth of over $2 billion, he stands among the University’s most prominent alumni.

Turner, who will return to Brown this weekend to receive an award for achievement in entrepeneurship and speak at the Entrepreneurial Extravaganza, achieved fame as the founder of CNN, the world’s first 24-hour cable news channel. In recent years, Turner has also garnered headlines for his philanthropic work on environmental issues, nuclear proliferation and global governance. In 1997 Turner promised $1 billion dollars to the United Nations Foundation in one of the largest philanthropic gestures in history.

Turner last spoke on campus in 2002, when he told students that he spent “three very interesting years” at Brown. Turner, who studied classics and economics, was commodore of the yacht club and vice president of the debating union.

But Turner was also suspended twice and was ultimately expelled from Brown when he was found living with his girlfriend during his second suspension.

For Brown, though, the issue is “ancient history,” according to Vice President for Alumni Relations Lisa Raiola ’84.

“He certainly wasn’t involved in any disciplinary action that would be considered a serious infraction,” she said. “He wasn’t doing anything that would be considered serious by our standards today.”

Raiola said rumors surrounding Turner’s early departure from Brown are not surprising given his legendary status in the business world. Turner’s history at Brown has taken on a larger-than-life character, much like Bill Gates’ time at Harvard, she said. Turner’s professional vision and his love for sailing might have also factored into his decision to leave Brown, she said.

Although Turner may have left the University on less-than-stellar terms, he has rekindled a relationship with the Brown community since achieving professional notoriety in the mid-1980s. In 1989, the University awarded Turner an honorary baccalaureate degree, and in 1993 he received an honorary doctorate.

Raiola said that although Turner never completed his bachelor’s degree, he is still considered a Brown alum. “You only have to have attended Brown to be considered an alum,” she said.

In 1999, Turner was named a member of the Board of Trustees. According to Russell Carey ’91, vice president and secretary for the University, Turner has been an active member of the board despite his busy schedule.

“Turner is a valuable member of the Corporation,” Carey said. “I think he has a lot to offer Brown.”

In addition to his status as a trustee, Turner also has a history of financial support for Brown. Ronald Vanden Dorpel, senior vice president for University advancement, said he was unable to specify exactly how much Turner has given to Brown but said Turner has been a major benefactor.

“Most institutions, Brown included, won’t give out donor information to the press, but he’s a major donor to Brown and has been for quite some time.”

“We hope he continues to be in the future in terms of our upcoming campaign,” he added.

The most recent media report of Turner’s giving to Brown was in September 1997, when the New York Times reported that Turner gave $25 million to the University.

This Saturday, Turner will be the first recipient of the annual Lifetime Achievement in Entrepeneurship Award, presented by the Brown Entrepreneurship Program. Josh Miller ’04, co-director of the EP Program, said the award is intended to honor Brown alumni who support the EP Program.

“We wanted to make it special in that it would be an (annual) award geared towards Brown alumni, something that reaches out to alumni who really support the (EP) program.” Miller said that having Turner as the first recipient of the award will not only be an honor for Turner, but will make the award more significant for future recipients.

Turner made national headlines the last time he spoke on campus. During a lecture in the spring of 2002, he denounced the Bush administration for dismissing the Sept. 11 hijackers as cowards. His remarks, construed in the national media as an endorsement of the hijackers, drew widespread criticism.

Turner is scheduled to receive EP’s award in Alumnae Hall at 5 p.m. Saturday. Students who register for the Entrepreneurial Extravaganza, co-hosted on Friday and Saturday by Bryant College and Brown University, will receive guaranteed seats at the event. Turner’s speech will be open to the public – including those not attending the Extravaganza – and seats will be available on a first come, first served basis.