Every so often I’d have a college course where there were some older folks auditing the class. Typically grey-haired, they always sat in the front, and always wanted to comment on something. And while my Madison auditors were usually retirees of the normal sort, Stanford has quietly had a auditor of their own. A billionaire. One Phillip H. Knight.
Though not registered as a student, Mr. Knight has periodically taken classes with Stanford undergraduates over the past three years, swapping homework assignments and even going out with fellow students for a few beers at Palo Alto bars. He has told fellow students that he is writing a novel.Knight has tried to keep a low profile, but with allusions to private jets and stories about Michael Jordan it’s hard to stay off the radar for too long. In fact, he’s seemed to enjoy his forays back into academia.
Though notably older than his fellow students, Mr. Knight soon became a popular fixture on the Stanford campus, known for hosting after-class gatherings at Palo Alto bars with his wife, Penny, before taking a private jet back to his home outside Portland, Ore. "He'd always pay," recalls Mr. Stillman.Yeah, he'd better. Knight’s access to these classes likely is due to his $105 million donation to the Stanford Graduate School of Business. And while this could easily be an instance of the rich buying access, his studiousness and intensity instead tells another story. One of Knight not only giving back, but then satisfying his own intellectual intensity at the same time. He could have easily touted his large gift to the school for all the press he could get. He could have shown up to class and stolen the spotlight. He did neither.
Instead Knight contributed to his courses, and from all indications those around him benefited from them. How often do enrolled undergraduates even do that? So often people yearn for their college days, wishing they could go back. But isn’t it about the party-scene, not the textbooks? Yet here’s Knight, getting another opportunity and seemingly making the most out of it.
Knight’s clearly no angel, and he has a long line of detractors. But at least in this case he’s done a good thing for the community and for himself. And those students in his creative writing seminar? He gave them each $200 gift certificates to Nike. Not bad, eh?