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AskBwog: Who is Z.Y. Fu?

In our latest AskBwog, Peter Krawczyk searched high and low (and mostly on Google) to see what can be found about the Engineering School’s namesake.

In 1997, the Columbia School of Engineering and Applied Science received a gift of $26 million from a Chinese businessman known only as Z.Y. Fu. The School was allowed to use the money in any way it saw fit; Fu’s only stipulation was that the 133 year-old institution had to rename itself “The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science,” which today is pronounced “SEEZ”. Of course, the school was only too happy to oblige. As Zvi Galil, then the SEAS dean, told the Times, ”It is a no-strings-attached gift that will come all at once … I can’t dream of something better.” And today, in the several screens of website devoted to its history, all the school has to say regarding Fu’s gift is: “Today, The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, as it was named in 1997, continues to provide leadership for scientific and educational advances.”

 

Fu said he made the gift because: “I am a regular visitor to New York, where Columbia is the most prestigious institution of higher learning. In addition to its long history of association with Chinese professors and scholars, the university has educated numerous Chinese students and successfully hosts the Fu Foundation Scholars program. Through this new gift, I wish to honor that association and to ensure that, in the years to come, Columbia will continue to grow in strength as an international leader in science and technology. This will serve as a model for education in China.” That quote is apparently his only ever public statement on the matter.

 

Then who was this mysterious man of four letters? He was born in Shanghai as one of thirteen children, and made the gift at the age of 78; he had also endowed a chair at SEAS in 1990, and was honored for his donation in 1999 with the Columbia University Distinguished Achievement Award. However, he was not by any means a Columbia alum – in fact, he had no apparent connections to the University other than a brother-in-law, Chia-Kun Chu, who was a professor at SEAS, and a few English classes taken in GS after he began donating.

 

We do know that Fu made his fortune through the Sansaio Trading Corporation which he founded in Tokyo in 1951, and which can evidently only be described as an amorphous, “wide-ranging international operation,” dealing in “import-export, investments, and securities trading.” Sansaio has no website, but appears to have an office in Midtown with a working phone. When Bwog called, a very nice American-sounding woman answered and promised to get back with information; unfortunately, we have yet to hear back.

 

If you have any more information regarding Mr. Fu, his whereabouts, and whether he is currently living, please email tips@bwog.net as soon as possible. Mr. Fu passed away on August 26th, 2011

 

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32 Comments

  • Viva La Zvi! says:

    @Viva La Zvi! Dean Galil’s name is Zvi. Not Zavi.

  • check out says:

    @check out Fu’s relative, Derrick Fu. He’s sophomore in SEAS.

    1. oh? says:

      @oh? is that why he’s a huge tool?

      1. Check yoself says:

        @Check yoself Derrick has co-founded a company in the past year. What have you done in the past year? Partied? That’s unique…

        1. well says:

          @well that doesn’t mean he isn’t a douchebag. i think you’re missing my point.

          1. QED? says:

            @QED? Yeah, excellent evidence to support that claim I bet. Do you even know him on more than a surface level?

            Regardless, Bill Gates was maybe thought to be a douche when he f’d over Apple and allegedly stole their programming in its early years, but look where he ended up now. Same deal with Donald Trump. Point is, they’re all world leaders regardless of people’s perceptions then and now (I don’t think he’s a douche at all and I know him as more than just an acquaintance) and it looks like one of our very own Columbians is headed that way. Shouldn’t we support his undertakings to try and make a positive change on campus?

        2. cool says:

          @cool maybe he’ll donate $26 m too

  • 12993123120 says:

    @12993123120 Not very substantive reporting, but great leads!

  • it's not says:

    @it's not 133 years, it’s 145 yrs

    1. oh nvr mind says:

      @oh nvr mind it was 133 in 1997..

  • Z.Y. Fu says:

    @Z.Y. Fu is a mysterious and inscrutable man.

  • i think.... says:

    @i think.... i saw Zvi the other day. he’s back at Columbia. Wikipedia says he resigned from Tel-Aviv University. unless it was a look-alike…

    1. Alum says:

      @Alum Zvi did resign from the presidency at Tel Aviv, but that doesn’t mean he has moved back to Columbia. He just stops by from time to time. I hope he’ll return, and a deal could be in the works, but for now that’s just unfounded speculation.

  • ... says:

    @... i know this is going to sound ridiculous, but in columbia/new york world. $26m for naming rights for a school seems really cheap.

    i mean, shit, columbia probably spends $26m/yr on landscaping.

    1. Now you know says:

      @Now you know why engineers hate the College’s budgets, especially when it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars just to get (and keep) a lab up and running.

    2. Alum says:

      @Alum I also think $26M was too little for a naming gift. But keep in mind that most larger naming gifts to other schools are paid over many years. $26M all at once is the equivalent of a vastly larger number paid over, say, a 20-year span.

      Also, at the time SEAS was less renowned than it is today. A less-renowned school can’t command as much for a naming as a better-known peer. And the Fu gift is a major reason SEAS is so much more highly-regarded today.

    3. Well, says:

      @Well, I sure hope for the sake of SEAS that Mr. Fu isn’t reading some of these remarks. Complaining that $26 million dollars is insubstantial, or undeserving of the honor that he received for it can come across as pretty ungrateful.

      1. Alum says:

        @Alum That’s certainly not what I was trying to say, but you’re right that my comments could be read that way.

        My main point was that, if SEAS could have accepted this gift without renaming the school, then it could have received both the Fu money in 1997 and a large naming gift from someone else later. Fundraisers call that giving up a development opportunity. If the opportunity wasn’t there then CU probably made the right call. After all, the administration must have a much better sense than I do about how much it should take to name a school.

        1. Yes, says:

          @Yes, I was responding to 9.

        2. well says:

          @well if Mr. Fu dies and decides not to leave money, we can always rename it again since the naming of the school after him was voluntary

  • ask Prof. Chu says:

    @ask Prof. Chu Just go and ask Prof. Chu. He is around. You can get all the answers!

  • 26 million says:

    @26 million If it only takes 26 million to get a school named after you…then John Kluge donating 400 – 600 million dollars seems to merit renaming the entire university:

    Kluge University of Columbia in the City of New York

    I’d like to see Prez Bo say that in one breath.

    1. Kluge says:

      @Kluge has a nice plaque on the 3rd floor of Dodge. Expensive fuckin’ plaque, huh?

      I’ve always wondered how much you’d have to donate to get Hamilton or John Jay renamed after yourself…

  • Alum says:

    @Alum “Fu’s only stipulation was that the 133 year-old institution had to rename itself ‘The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science,’ which today is pronounced “SEEZ”.

    At the time, it was widely reported that Fu had made no such demand and that President Rupp felt naming the school after him was an appropriate gesture. I hope those reports were wrong and Bwog is right.

    Also, the school was called SEAS (and pronounced “SEEZ”) even before the Fu gift.

  • Alum (again) says:

    @Alum (again) As to the last line of the article, Mr. Fu is still alive. I suspect that when he dies SEAS will get another large gift from his estate. In fact, the rumors about Rupp initiating the name change said that he did it partly to increase the chances that Fu would give more money later and/or that he would leave much of his wealth to the school in his will.

  • Alum says:

    @Alum That’s probably not true. Very large gifts involve written contracts, Fu’s contract surely included naming the school even if the idea came from President Rupp.

    Besides, accepting a generous gift and then reneging on naming rights is ethically dubious at best. It would also discourage other large gifts.

    Remember that Yale was named for a prospective donor who never actually contributed anything. The institution never removed his name.

  • The Fu Guy says:

    @The Fu Guy Mr. Fu did not make a claim to have the school named after him; that was a gift from Columbia back to Mr. Fu — a gesture of appreciation and gratitude; something many of those who have commented have lost sight of.

    First and foremost, 26 million dollars in 1997 is not nearly the same as 26 million dollars today. Now, that’d be worth AT LEAST twice as much. Additionally, if you check rankings of engineering schools dating back to 1997, you’ll see that SEAS was ranked nowhere near where it’s ranked today, largely due to improvements facilitated by Mr. Fu’s donation.

    It should also be noted that Mr. Fu did not even attend Columbia, but still made this donation because he saw it as a means of providing opportunities for the world’s brightest students, not only of Chinese background, to benefit the world through innovation in the sciences. He saw Columbia as a model for the rest of the world to follow.

    I know I speak on behalf of an extremely large demographic of mainland-Chinese and American-born-Chinese students here at Columbia, when I say that it is a great source of pride to have an entire school of one of the world’s best academic institutions named after someone of our heritage.

    Also, Bwog — as stated before, your first paragraph is historically incorrect, and should be corrected. In the future, it might be a good idea to conduct more research and speak to people who might be able to comment and contribute intelligently.

    Regards,
    Derrick Fu

    1. derrick... says:

      @derrick... i adore you

  • hmm says:

    @hmm If the historical and factural errors in this article that Derrick pointed out are indeed legitimate, yes, bwog needs a serious reconsideration of its reporting standards.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous I am very happy that Z Y Fu decided to give the Engineering School such a wonderful gift. He is a generous man, and I am glad to know that he gave the money with no strings attached. I am furious with Galil and Rupp for changing the name of the Engineering School. I stopped donating to my alma mater in 1997 because of this name change. If it were still the Columbia University School for Engineering and Applied Science I would be glad to call myself an alumnus. Those administrators are jerks.

    1. Alum says:

      @Alum Are you upset that the school got a name or that it got this particular name? Do you think naming the school should have been reserved for a larger donation? Or is it something else?

      Lots of universities name schools, departments, institutes, etc. in honor of generous donors. Usually they do this only when the donor asks (or when he/she donates in response to a request for a naming gift) so that they can still seek a large naming gift later.

      Back in ’97 I thought Columbia should have found a different way to honor Mr. Fu. For example, it could have named several more professorships after him (in addition to the one he previously endowed in applied math) and named the Engineering Terrace in his honor. In retrospect, though, I’m far less persuaded that this was a mistake. And either way I’m deeply grateful to Mr. Fu.

      On the other hand, I think it was a mistake to name the school after Mr. Fu’s foundation. Once CU decided to name the school, it should have named it after Mr. Fu personally. The Z. Y. Fu School of Engineering and Applied Science has a better ring to it than the current name. Besides, I don’t know of any other naming gift for a school that used the entire name of a foundation. Even when a foundation gave the naming gift, the school was usually named after the founder. The Mailman School of Public Health is a good example of this.

  • dfuisatool says:

    @dfuisatool the kid’s a fucking tool what do you expect

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