Philanthropist Adrienne Arsht donates $5 million for university-wide programs

Adrienne Arsht, a philanthropist and University of Miami trustee since May, is donating a $5 million gift to be used for university-wide ethics programs, eye research, athletics, the music school and more, President Donna E. Shalala announced yesterday.

“Adrienne is passionate about a great many causes and, being the sharp businesswoman she is, she has been able to connect them all by generously investing in a variety of important projects at the University of Miami,” Shalala said in a press release (read the full release). “We are so fortunate to have this tireless champion for education in our community.”

Arsht, who has already donated $1 million to UM’s ethics program in 2006, has specified that $2 million of her most recent gift be used again for ethics studies, a field she is passionate about.

“I think ethics is the core of how we live and how and whether or not our civilization will survive,” Arsht said. “People make decisions, and whether or not they’re ethical determines if there will be a future for us and our children.”

According to the university, Arsht’s gift of $2 million to UM’s interdisciplinary ethics programs is the largest ethics gift in Florida history.

A $1 million portion of the gift will go towards eye research at the Miller School of Medicine, possibly to create a retinal research lab, said Sergio Gonzalez, the senior vice president of University Advancement and External Affairs.

Arsht said that the gift has partially been used to “honor Coach Randy Shannon” and the UM athletics department, as well as to support the Frost School of Music and Festival Miami, an annual music festival. The allocation of the rest of the gift’s funds has not yet been designated, said Gonzalez.

“The rest of the money could help the undergraduate community,” Gonzalez said. “The ethics enhancements will benefit undergrads because it will enhance teaching, faculty ability to teach, lectures, activities and could invite speakers to campus.”

Anita Cava and Ken Goodman, who have co-directed the ethics programs for the past 17 years, said Arsht’s gift will aid the UM Ethics Society, an undergraduate organization whose debate team won the prestigious Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl competition in 2007.

Goodman stressed the importance of ethics on a global level; the critical thinking skills required in ethics are beneficial in many real-life situations, he said.

“Ethics isn’t just about being a nice person,” Goodman said. “It’s about using critical thinking skills to solve serious problems, [which are used by] business people in the boardroom, doctors in the hospital, scientists in the lab.”

For the last two years, Arsht has sponsored the Arsht Ethics Debate at UM’s annual Sports Fest. The Arsht Ethics Debates are the first academic component to Sports Fest in history.

“[Arsht] has come to the Mahoney [Residential College] classrooms to observe the debates, award the trophies and congratulate the students personally on dilemmas involving ethics and sports,” Cava said.

With Arsht’s emphasis on student involvement, UM Ethics Society members were given the opportunity to create their own ethical dilemmas to debate, said Cava.

Arsht, who is a lawyer and former chairwoman of TotalBank, also donated $30 million to the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Downtown Miami. Arsht said she hopes her philanthropy will help others.

“What I hope to accomplish is that those who can benefit from the programs have a better existence, whatever that may be,” she said.

To learn more about the University of Miami’s ethics programs, visit or call 305-284-5926.