The University of Vermont announced today an estate commitment with an estimated current market value of $66 million from UVM dual-degree alum and Vermont native Robert Larner ’39, M.D.’42, and his wife, Helen. The commitment to donate – the largest gift ever to a public university in New England – caps decades of philanthropic support from the Larners, whose lifetime giving now will likely reach $100 million.
To recognize and express gratitude for their extraordinary commitment to medical education at UVM, the University of Vermont Board of Trustees voted to name the college of medicine in honor of Dr. Larner. The medical school will now be known as The Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at The University of Vermont. When realized and combined with previously announced gifts from the Larners, the bequest will vastly accelerate the Larner College of Medicine’s ability to reach the institutional goal inspired by Dr. Larner – to be recognized as second to none for medical education worldwide.
The Larners’ gift marks the first occasion in the United States for which a medical school is named to honor an alumnus physician and donor.
“Today, we stand at a defining moment in the history of this great university as we celebrate the goal we’ve shared with Dr. Larner for years – to be recognized as second to none in medical education,” said Tom Sullivan, president of the University of Vermont. “We remain in awe of how he embraces philanthropy. His love for humanity, and his desire to provide long-term endowment funding, will greatly enhance medical education at UVM – and by extension will elevate medical care for patients in Vermont and worldwide who are treated by those trained here – for many generations to come.”
Robert Larner’s nearly 80-year relationship with The University of Vermont began during his childhood in Burlington’s Old North End, where he was one of seven children of a local roofer during the Great Depression. The only one of his siblings to go to college, he attended UVM in part thanks to a scholarship he received when he won the state debate championship. After graduating from the UVM College of Medicine, he served in World War II, settled in the Los Angeles area to build a successful medical practice and invested in the burgeoning Southern California commercial real estate market.
“I give to the University of Vermont College of Medicine because the education I received here made everything great that followed in my life possible,” said Dr. Robert Larner. “I’m humbled that The University of Vermont has decided to name the medical college in my honor, but I’m equally grateful for the opportunity to impact the future of medical education and to inspire others to contribute to this exceptional institution which is truly second to none.”
“In recognition of Robert and Helen Larner’s new commitment, which brings their lifetime giving to an astounding $100 million – $95 million in just the last 11 months – we celebrate Robert Larner’s devotion to medical education,” said David Daigle, chair of The University of Vermont Board of Trustees. “It is my distinct privilege, on behalf of the full board, to officially name this college to which he has given so much of himself The Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine.”
The historic gift announcement was made to a large crowd gathered outside the entrance to the Larner College of Medicine with more than 150 medical students in their white coats standing behind the speakers at the podium. The students’ presence demonstrated their profound gratitude to the Larners and acknowledged the pivotal role that endowment gifts make in the excellence and long-term growth of the medical college.
Endowed funds maintain the donor’s gift as principal in perpetuity while paying out a small portion, typically around four percent per year, to fund designated programs. Once the Larners’ bequest is realized, approximately 95 percent of their lifetime giving will be secured endowment funding, so their giving will generate roughly $4 million annually to ensure that The Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine remains at the forefront of medical education for generations to come.
For many years Dr. Larner has supported innovation in medical education at UVM, and this gift will accelerate the transformation underway at the College. The data are clear that engaging students in active learning is superior to providing passive lectures for teaching science, especially so for women and minorities. Thus, the College has been moving away from lecture-based courses and toward team-based learning, simulation, flipped classrooms, and other engaged learning activities. Recent initiatives include digitizing the entire curriculum, creating new innovative classrooms that facilitate active learning, building an enhanced simulation center to help students learn clinical skills, and recruiting an endowed Professor of Medical Education to lead the Teaching Academy.
“This is a joyful day of recognition of an alumnus of the College of Medicine and his amazing act of generosity,” said Frederick Morin, M.D., dean of the Larner College of Medicine. “This gift is the culmination of a commitment that Dr. Larner made to me in his den several years ago, and it is now our awesome responsibility to deliver on our commitment by using his gift to ensure our students receive – in his words – a medical education second to none.”
The State of Vermont’s support for Vermont student aid is critical to ensuring that talented Vermonters without the necessary financial resources – like Dr. Robert Larner, who received a scholarship – can continue to attend the state’s flagship university. As Vermont’s only research university, UVM is an economic engine for the entire state, and the Larner College of Medicine plays a substantial role in creating a significant return on the state’s investment. It is estimated that the total economic impact of the Larner College of Medicine exceeds $400 million annually in Vermont, directly and indirectly supporting over 2600 jobs in the state.
"This is a great day for the University of Vermont,” said Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin. “This historic gift allows innovation in medical education that will be transformational not only for students, but to the State of Vermont by producing exceptional physicians and putting us on the map with one of the top medical schools in the country. We recognize that the partnership between UVM and the State of Vermont is critical to the education, well-being and economic opportunity for Vermonters and we will work diligently to keep that partnership strong and vibrant.”
State support combined with private philanthropy through the UVM Foundation is helping the university to reach new heights. Launched publicly in October 2015, Move Mountains: The Campaign for The University of Vermont has raised $375 million of the $500 million goal to support four key areas: student access and affordability, faculty endowments, new and renovated facilities, and academic programs. The bequest from the Larners is a tremendous commitment to fund the bright future of the Larner College of Medicine, but there are still multiple additional fundraising priorities that remain.
One of Dr. Robert Larner’s core reasons for donating is to inspire others to give. With this bequest, and the many donations that preceded it, he has helped not only to greatly enhance medical education at UVM but also to create a philanthropic culture that is second to none.