Pearson Family Foundation members sue U. of C., want $100M gift revoked

By GABRIELLA CRUZ-MARTÍNEZ
Herald Intern

A $100 million donation to the University of Chicago made in 2015 by the Pearson Family Foundation is at the center of a federal lawsuit, now that the family has asked to revoke the gift due to an alleged chain of breached obligations with which the University has failed to comply.

The conditional grant was given to the U. of C. by the Foundation’s principal officers, brothers Thomas L. Pearson and Timothy R. Pearson with the aim to open a new research institute and global forum focused on addressing the current era of global conflicts and how to resolve them through data-based research and conflict-resolution strategies.

The Pearsons had made what was at the time the second-largest single donation to the University in its history.

Aside from creating The Pearson Institute, the donation would also have helped launch the annual Pearson Globe Forum (TPGF) where the University of Chicago could have showcased research made possible by The Pearson Institute, and bring together today’s prominent international policy leaders and scholars.

According to the lawsuit, the University of Chicago allegedly failed to deliver on the “most fundamental obligations under the grant agreement.” Once the agreement was signed in 2015, the University failed to appoint an institute director to “run the day-to-day operations for The Pearson Institute and TPGF”, did not create or develop and original academic curriculum and failed to provide an acceptable operating plan and budget, the lawsuit states.

According to a University news release, the gift would also have endowed four named professorships in the Harris School of Public Policies Studies, 1155 E. 60th St., with one named as faculty director for the Pearson Institute. This agreement was not fulfilled, according to the lawsuit.

As a result of the university having allegedly breached its obligations over a period of more than two years with the Pearson Family Foundation, the Pearsons are requesting the return of $22.9 million, representing payments of $11.0 million in 2015, $11.0 million in 2016, and $900,000 in 2018.

The U. of C. issued the following statement regarding the matter:

“In September 2015, the University of Chicago announced a gift of $100 million to establish the Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts and The Pearson Global Forum. Since that time, the University has created a flourishing Institute that has attracted world-renowned scholars and outstanding students to pursue research and education aimed at understanding and resolving global conflicts. In the short time since its formation, the Institute has hosted dozens of events, enrolled more than 200 students in courses related to the study of global conflict, and fostered an engaged community of scholars. The remarkable faculty, staff and students at The Pearson Institute will continue their important and meaningful work with the full support and endorsement of the University.

“The University has a demonstrated history of responsibly stewarding and administering gifts and grants of all sizes and for many purposes. The University honors its grant agreements with its donors, and it did so with the Pearsons. Further, all academic and hiring decisions are the sole purview of the University and its faculty, guided by the principle of academic freedom. The Pearsons’ complaint is without merit, and the University will vigorously defend itself against the baseless allegations.”

hpherald@hpherald.com