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$30 million to Cal State Fullerton

January 04, 2008|My-Thuan Tran | Times Staff Writer

Cal State Fullerton has big plans for its business school, thanks to the $30-million donation -- the largest in the university's history -- it received Thursday from a former student-turned-telecommunications entrepreneur.

University officials hope the pledge by Steven G. Mihaylo will transform the business school into a top tier college with undergraduate and master's programs that can compete with any other in the country.

"This is a pivotal gift that will transform the college from being just one of the Cal State schools to being a distinctive college," said Anil Puri, dean of the College of Business and Economics.

In appreciation of the donation, the business college will be renamed after Mihaylo, a 1969 business administration graduate, pending approval by the California State University Board of Trustees.

More than half of the donation will go toward recruiting and retaining faculty, university officials said. Part of that money includes creating three endowed chairs, which would help attract top business faculty, Puri said.

Mihaylo's donation will also be used for student scholarships and to support new programs such as additional career placement services or international business programs, Puri said.

The multimillion-dollar gift is the fourth-largest in the Cal State system's history, officials said.

Mihaylo, 64, said his education at Cal State Fullerton gave him the boost he needed to start his own company six months after receiving his undergraduate degree. Starting with one employee, Mihaylo grew Inter-Tel Inc. into a publicly traded telecommunications company with 2,000 employees. After selling the company in October, Mihaylo retired and decided to give back to his alma mater.

"I was lucky because I had professors that encouraged me to reach beyond the average person," he said. "I really took them seriously when they said I could do anything."

Mihaylo was already the university's largest donor after pledging $4.5 million in 2004, which led to a new $87.5-million business building to be named after him. The building is scheduled to open this fall.

That donation caused an uproar last year when a business class learned that Mihaylo's company had pleaded guilty to mail fraud and antitrust felonies. Some students called on the university to return the donation, and others raised questions about whether Mihaylo's donation was large enough to have a building named after him.

Mihaylo agreed to pay $8.7 million in fines and penalties in 2004, but he was never accused of wrongdoing. The university did not return any of the money, said President Milton A. Gordon.

"The school thoroughly reviewed the matter and saw that Steve acted as the head of the company," Gordon said.

Mihaylo said he hoped his gift would be seen as a catalyst for other alumni to donate to the university, which has the largest business school in California, with 8,000 undergraduate majors and 626 students working toward master's degrees.

"This business school has contributed unbelievably to the economy and vibrancy of Orange County," he said. "It doesn't get the recognition it deserves."

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my-thuan.tran@latimes.com

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