The Goergen Years
The new chairman of the Board of Trustees reflects on the “transforming
leadership” of Robert Goergen ’60. By G. Robert Witmer ’59
history of a University is often and appropriately described by the terms
of office of its presidents. Rochester’s progress is often separated,
for example, into the Anderson years, the Rhees years, the Wallis years (to
point to a few of those who are no longer with us). Occasionally, though,
it is also instructive to describe eras by the terms of those who have led
the University’s Board of Trustees. Such was the case during the transforming
leadership of Joseph C. Wilson ’31, and such is the case with the chairmanship
of Robert B. Goergen ’60, which ended in May after an extraordinary
The fiduciary responsibilities of the board are discharged in many ways. Three
of the most important are: (1) selection of the president, (2) oversight of
the processes for the development and support of policies which will achieve
the University’s teaching and research goals, and (3) maintenance and
improvement of the University’s resources and reputation. In each, Bob
Goergen leaves a significant mark.
When President Dennis O’Brien announced his retirement, the board
selected Bob to chair the Presidential Screening Committee, and here his leadership
was extraordinary. He selected a representative group of trustees to serve
on that committee and initiated a thorough search of candidates, ending most
happily in the appointment of Tom Jackson. But I believe that the impact of
President Jackson’s selection was matched by Bob’s engagement
of a group of outstanding faculty as an advisory group—which turned
into a true partnership. The contacts and friendships that developed between
trustees and faculty have continued and have made important contributions
to the University’s success.
Bob’s experience as a successful business leader became particularly
evident in the strategic plans developed by the trustees and administration.
Under President Jackson’s leadership, the College has been reinvigorated
through the Renaissance Plan, and the Medical Center has seen a vastly strengthened
clinical care system and an extraordinary expansion of medical research activities.
Throughout these processes, Bob was single-minded in his insistence that the
University look beyond the immediate issues and focus on the intergenerational
consequences of our actions.
He also brought the analytical rigor of a physics major and M.B.A. to the
table, and insisted that the trustees and administration develop quantifiable
metrics by which to measure our efforts. As you might imagine, the exercise
of developing the metrics in turn also improved and refined the plans themselves.
Improved freshman undergraduate SAT scores and other measures have demonstrated
quantifiably the success of the Renaissance Plan, and the Medical Center is
well on its way in demonstrating similar success.
The University and its board have been strengthened as a result of Bob’s
efforts and influence. Under his leadership, we have actively sought as trustees
alumni who have a passion for our University, and Bob made it a practice to
explain personally and clearly what was expected of each new trustee. The
talents and experience of our trustees are extraordinary and have enabled
the board to identify and address critical issues such as reducing the draw
on the University’s endowment, helping the Medical Center meet the extraordinary
challenges faced by every such center in the country, and promoting the very
essence of a University—teaching.
Under the leadership of Bob and of Trustee Ed Hajim ’58, chairman of
the Investment Committee, the investment record of the University has improved
steadily and now ranks near the top of the other University Athletic Association
institutions. This financial stewardship has helped persuade many of our friends
that their contributions can have a lasting impact in support of our mission.
Bob and his wife, Pamela, have led by example as well. Their generosity has
enabled the University to enjoy one of the premier student athletic facilities
in higher education—the Robert B. Goergen Athletic Center, which has
significantly improved the lives of students, faculty, and staff. But there
is another contribution which has been even more far-reaching, and which demonstrates
Bob’s thoughtfulness and vision. The Goergen Awards, presented each
year at the College Convocation, have become a wonderful celebration of a
core mission of the University—undergraduate teaching and learning.
On behalf of the board, I want to express my admiration and gratitude for
all that Bob Goergen has done. I am also particularly pleased that he has
agreed to remain on the board so that we may continue to benefit from his
wisdom and friendship.
And, in any case, these will be very big shoes to fill.