Who Endowed Wendy Wintersteen’s Ag College Chair?

The $3 million gift was made anonymously, and Iowa State University continues to keep its donor's name confidential

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Incoming Iowa State University president Wendy Wintersteen. Photo: Iowa State University

For years, student activists and other critics of the dominating influence of Big Ag over research at Iowa State University have wondered who’s behind its first deanship endowment, which was established in 2007 through an anonymous $3 million gift to the university’s college of agriculture and life sciences. The gift made Wendy Wintersteen, who Monday was announced as ISU’s new president, the college’s first endowed dean.

Since ISU announced earlier this month that Wintersteen was among the finalists for the presidency, questions about the mysterious donor’s identity resurfaced, thanks to Wintersteen’s controversial ties to corporate agribusiness that have come at the expense of other academic perspectives on agriculture.

This week, an Informer reader and former student activist inquired about the donor, whose identity the university continues to conceal. “The donor was an individual who used their own personal resources to establish the deanship, and who has given to a number of other areas on campus,” Melea Reicks Licht, ISU’s director of alumni relations, told the former student by email. “The donor chose to give confidentially for personal reasons.”

Do you have information about the donor? Let us know.

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.