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Investor Bill Miller promises $75 million to Johns Hopkins University philosophy department

The Baltimore Sun

January 16, 2017


For legendarily successful stockpicker William H. “Bill” Miller III, the question was not so much philosophical as practical.

What am I going to do with this money, which I obviously can’t take with me?” the now -67-year-old fund manager asked himself.

The answer Miller came up with, at least for $75 million of his fortune, was to give it to the Johns Hopkins University philosophy department.

Tuesday’s announcement of the eye-popping sum, the largest ever to any of the university’s humanities departments, quickly spread through ivory towers across the country, where contemplating concepts like existentialism and ontology gave way however temporarily to marveling at this number in the high eight figures.

“It’s terrific news for Johns Hopkins and the discipline as a whole,” said Cheshire Calhoun, an Arizona State University philosophy professor and chair of the board of officers of the American Philosophical Association. “You could create one of the best programs in the nation with that. What a progressive and astute move on the part of Mr. Miller to invest in philosophy at this moment in history.”

As it turns out, Miller is as conversant in matters of the mind as of the market: He was working on a doctorate in philosophy at Hopkins in the 1970s before leaving to pursue a career in investment management. He completed the coursework but, as so many before him, “didn’t write the dissertation,” Miller said in an interview.

Philosophy’s loss was money managing’s gain. Miller eventually joined Legg Mason, where the fund he managed beat the returns on the benchmark Standard & Poor's 500 stock index for an unparalleled 15 years in a row from 1991 to 2005.