Gift moves College of Communication forward

For the current crop of communication students worried about a lack of job opportunities after leaving school, J. William Diederich is proof that fortunes can be made with a communications degree.

In May of 2005, J. William and Mary Diederich donated $28 million to the College of Communication, from which J. William graduated, to be released in installments over the next 20 years.

Marquette, thankful for the massive donation, named the college after the couple, who both graduated in the early 1950s.

Lori Bergen, dean of the College of Communication, said the Diederich’s gift releases $1.4 million annually to the college. Of that amount, $725,000 is allocated for current use spending, and $675,000 is put into a permanent endowment fund that will total $20 million by 2025, she said.

The past school year saw the college use the Diederichs’ money for a variety of reasons. Guest speakers Dee Dee Myers, the White House press secretary for the Clinton administration, journalist Lisa Ling, and film and TV professional Michael Kelly, among others, were paid for by the college.

Much of the scholarship money from the college comes from the money made by J. William as an executive at the Weather Channel. The Diederich scholars get their whole tuition paid for through a scholarship by the college, Bergen said.

Also, major renovations to Johnston Hall came courtesy of the Diederichs.

Johnston’s basement was renovated in an attempt to increase convergence among the student media groups by giving the print, radio and TV divisions the same working space.

Marquette Radio benefited from a brand new studio, MUTV received upgraded technology and renovations to their studio, and all of Marquette Student Media was moved into a new office space complete with giant wide screen televisions.

The $20 million endowment fund will provide the college with substantial economic footing to compete with communication programs at other universities. How the endowment fund will accomplish that, however, is complicated.

Matteo Arena, an assistant professor of finance, said endowment funds are formed through private donations to institutions, such as colleges, which are then invested into financial assets such as stocks, bonds and treasury bills.

The actual money donated to Marquette and other endowments is never spent, Arena said. Instead, to ensure a constant source of secondary income, the substantial amounts of interest generated from the endowment are the only funds spent by the university.

Arena said Marquette is less risky than most institutions when it comes to the type of bonds and stocks bought with its endowment fund. Marquette chose to buy low-risk stocks and high credit quality bonds, Arena said.

“This shields the institution from wide losses during down market periods like in recent years,” he said in an e-mail. “(At Marquette), we didn’t see in percentage the losses experienced by riskier endowment investment strategies, such as at Harvard.”

In the future, Bergen said the Diederich’s gift would be used as it was originally intended, and how it is being spent today: to establish the College of Communication as one of the top educators in print, broadcast and electronic communication.

The college could benefit from a more prestigious reputation. Partly because of the number of athletes who choose communication as their college, many students who major in colleges like engineering or business administration doubt the College of Communication’s level of difficulty.

Mike Herbst, a junior in the College of Communication, believes the college is not well known outside of the Marquette community. Last spring, Herbst went to a job interview at a major public relations firm where he was asked if Marquette even had a communications program.

Technology, Bergen said, is the best way for the college to teach its material for a 21st century job market. That technology is provided for by the Diederichs.

“We are reinventing the education that students receive through a focus on digital technology,” Bergen said in an e-mail.