Students walk across campus at the University of Tampa.
Students walk across campus at the University of Tampa, which has announced one of the largest gifts in its history, benefiting the honors program. [MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times (2020)]

The University of Tampa on Monday announced a donation from local philanthropists Frank and Carol Morsani, calling it one of the largest gifts in school history.

The funds will be used to benefit the honors college, the school said. A spokesperson said the private university’s policy is to not disclose gift amounts.

The donation will support the Morsani Honors College, to be housed in a new building, as well as a scholarship fund for honors students and the Morsani Excellence Fund for honors programming and activities, a news release said.

University President Ron Vaughn said in the release that the gift will help the school’s rising academic profile. Its existing honors program was created in 1982.

“Their investment in education excellence will enhance the university’s reputation and will elevate our priorities nationally,” Vaughn said of the Morsanis’ gift. “It is reaffirming for UT to be recognized and supported by the Morsanis, as this gift recognizes UT’s role in the success of Tampa and the region.”

Kacy Tillman, a co-director of the honors program, said in the release that having a building will help create a sense of community for honors students.

The release said the Morsanis are long-time friends of UT and the Vaughn family.

Frank Morsani was a member of UT’s Board of Counselors from 1974-76 and its Board of Fellows from 1977-79. He served as chairperson of the Fellows in 1978 and headed the school’s board of trustees from 1980-84, the release said.

He was one of the original donors of the Max H. Hollingsworth Endowed Chair of American Enterprise at UT, currently filled by Vaughn. The couple also donated millions for the dining and residential hall that bears the Morsaniname.

In addition to their involvement at UT, the Morsanis have been long-time donors at the University of South Florida, recently with gifts for scholarships, endowed positions and the proposed campus stadium.

“We’re the ‘check-out generation,’ so you need make some moves because you know time is not on our side anymore,” Frank Morsani said in an interview Monday.

He said UT has risen in prestige since it was founded, more than 20 years before USF.

“It was started by the business community primarily because there was no higher education in the state that was addressing the needs of our region,” he said. “When you look at why the University of Tampa was created, I think the community can be extremely proud.”

Both UT and USF have important roles, Morsani said.

“They’re having a great impact on the community and they graduate students who stay here and develop the community and world,” he said. “My wife and I think education is the backbone of our society, and we’re pleased we can support most of these universities in some ways to continue to improve mankind.”

Higher education reporter for The Tampa Bay Times in partnership with Open Campus.