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April 05, 2016

Joel Seligman, Tristram Smith are inaugural holders of new professorships

Joel Seligman
Joel Seligman

Joel Seligman, the G. Robert Witmer, Jr. University Professorship

Established by a $2 million commitment from alumnus G. Robert Witmer, Jr., chair emeritus of the University’s Board of Trustees, and his wife, Nancy, the Witmer University Professorship provides financial support for the University president.

“Bob will be forever linked to the leaders of an institution that he has loved and helped make great for more than 60 years,” says Seligman, president and CEO of the University. “I cannot think of a gift that could more appropriately speak to his long-standing leadership and influence on this University. This is an endowment to support the University president, not me personally, similar to endowments that support some of our deans.

“But it is an extraordinary honor to be the inaugural holder. Bob’s leadership, guidance, and friendship have meant a great deal to me over the past decade. The way the University has transformed in that time would not have been possible without his thoughtful and ever-present support.”

A member of the University’s board since 1979, Bob Witmer’s service has spanned four University presidencies, one of the longest trustee tenures in Rochester’s history. He chaired the board from 2003 until 2008, a period that included the selection of Seligman as the University’s 10th president and preparation for the 2011 launch of The Meliora Challenge: The Campaign for the University of Rochester.

He also has served as a member or chair of 10 board committees. In addition, Witmer has provided leadership to numerous boards and councils across the University, including as president of the Eastman Dental Center Board of Directors, chair of the Eastman School of Music National Council, and chair of the University Alumni Council.

In addition to establishing the professorship, the Witmers’ philanthropy includes the president’s house, known as the Witmer House in honor of Bob’s parents, Marian Witmer and the Honorable G. Robert Witmer Sr. As a member of the Class of 1926, Bob Witmer’s father was one of 13 Rochester alumni in the Witmer family.

A 1959 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University, Witmer became a member of the first class of inductees to the University’s Sports Hall of Fame as cocaptain of the varsity basketball team. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1962, he began a long and successful career at Nixon Peabody LLP.

Tristram Smith
Tristram Smith

Tristram Smith, Haggerty-Friedman Professorship in Developmental/Behavioral Pediatric Research

Tristram Smith, professor of pediatrics, has been appointed to the Haggerty-Friedman Professorship in Developmental/Behavioral Pediatric Research.

The professorship supports research to advance developmental and behavioral health of infants, children, adolescents, and their families and to promote understanding of the biopsychosocial environment in which they live.

Smith leads federally funded studies comparing the efficacy of interventions for children with autism spectrum disorders.

In addition, he serves as an investigator on studies of environmental risk factors for developmental disabilities. He is also a clinician in the Medical Center’s Community Consultation Program, serving students with special needs in public schools and other agencies.

Smith has authored or coauthored several of the most widely cited studies on treatment outcomes for children with autism.

Smith’s commitment to the study and treatment of autism began in 1982, when he had the opportunity to volunteer as a “buddy” for an adult with autism who lived near his college.

The experience inspired him to apply to graduate school at UCLA, where he earned a PhD in clinical psychology and worked as a therapist and researcher with O. Ivar Lovaas in the UCLA Young Autism Project.

Before moving to Rochester in 2000, Smith directed clinics for children with autism and their families in California, Iowa, and Washington.

The new professorship was established by two Rochester faculty members: the late Stanford Friedman ’57M (MD), who helped launch the field of behavioral pediatrics, and Robert Haggerty ’51M (Res), who was chair of pediatrics during Friedman’s tenure at the Medical Center.

Haggerty, professor of pediatrics at the School of Medicine and Dentistry, was formerly president of the William T. Grant Foundation, which supports research to improve the mental health of school-age children and to assist them in realizing their full potential.

He is a former editor of Pediatrics in Review, the continuing education journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as past president of that organization.

Friedman was a professor of pediatrics at Rochester prior to leading programs in adolescent medicine at the University of Maryland, North Shore-LIJ Health System, and Montefiore Medical Center.

He was president of the National SIDS Foundation, the Society of Adolescent Medicine, the Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, and the American Psychosomatic Society.

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