Robert Parsons, the flamboyant founder of website registrar Go Daddy.com, has given $1 million to his alma mater, the University of Baltimore, to set up a new professorship focused on digital communication.
The professor will serve as director of the school’s Center for Digital Communication, Commerce and Culture. The digital communication field integrates computer science, graphic design and entrepreneurship.
“The Internet is the ‘heart of the new economy,’” Parsons said in a statement. “The idea behind our digital communication course is to provide real life lessons … to give students the benefit of what I’ve learned in business over the years.”
In addition to funding the professorship, Parsons has agreed to support the program by teaching, both in person and remotely.
“That’s the unique part of this, is his desire to do some of the teaching,” said University of Baltimore President Robert L. Bogomolny. “He wanted to be sure he could be part of this, and he’s a very compelling speaker with a lot of useful experience.”
Parsons was a U.S. Marine Corps rifleman and was wounded in Vietnam. He was awarded the Combat Action Ribbon, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry and a Purple Heart. After leaving the Marine Corps, he enrolled at the University of Baltimore and graduated magna cum laude in 1975 with an accounting degree.
Parsons then founded Parsons Technology, which he later sold to Intuit Inc. and used the proceeds to found the Go Daddy Group in 1997. He sold a portion of Go Daddy in 2011 and is now the company’s executive chairman.
Go Daddy is the largest website domain registrar and site hosting provider. The company said it has more than 53 million domain names under management.
“He’s one of those graduates who has always been very positive about his experiences at UB,” Bogomolny said. “He really is an amazing talent and having him be involved in this makes it an important step in the future of the university.”
Parsons, who was recognized as a UB 2010 Distinguished Entrepreneur, will also bring a history of controversy to the post. The company became notorious for its risqué Super Bowl TV ads featuring scantily clad “Go Daddy Girls,” including auto racer Danica Patrick and celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels.
In recent years, Parsons and the company also became targets of grassroots campaigns over his support of the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. The company did drop its support of SOPA last December.
Personally, Parsons was targeted for a video he posted to his personal blog of a hunting trip he took to Africa. The footage shows Parsons and others hunting down and killing elephants in Zimbabwe. Parsons argued the elephants were “problem” ones that had been destroying crops for local farmers. The animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, though, called for a boycott of Go Daddy and pulled its domain registration from the company.
Bogomolny said the controversy comes from what made Parsons successful in the first place, his outgoing personality and drive to market the company and succeed.
“What he is doing is lawful, and edgy,” Bogomolny said. “But, at the center of all of this is creativity, and he is a very creative guy.”
Bogomolny said the school expects to have the new professor in place for the fall semester.