University of Rochester

Rochester Review
July–August 2011
Vol. 73, No. 6

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1924 and 2011 By Joel Seligman
president (Photo: Adam Fenster)

This May the University’s Board of Trustees unanimously agreed to publicly launch the largest capital campaign in our history at Meliora Weekend later this year. We have done this before.

In 1924 our University was transformed by a capital campaign from what was, in 1920, a College of Arts and Sciences with 577 students and 55 faculty into a national university that by the end of the decade included the new River Campus, the School of Medicine, and Dentistry and Strong Memorial Hospital.

Between November 14 and November 24, the University successfully launched an unprecedented $10 million community capital campaign with the consequential slogan “Ten Millions in Ten Days.” One week later, George Eastman contributed an additional $6 million.

The 1924 campaign provided much of the $8.2 million cost of purchasing the Oak Hill Country Club and transforming it into the River Campus, ultimately envisioned to be large enough to accommodate 10,000 students.

In 1930, the New York Times would call the results of the capital campaign “Rochester’s New Glory.” The campaign led to the construction of Rush Rhees Library, Bausch & Lomb Hall, Dewey Hall, Morey Hall, Lattimore Hall, Gavett Hall, Strong Auditorium, Todd Union, the Alumni Gymnasium, Fauver Stadium, and the Burton and Crosby residence halls. The campaign was pivotal in helping fund construction of the School of Medicine and Dentistry; led to the creation in 1929 of our Institute of Optics; and the renovation of Sibley Library, the world’s finest music library.

How did our predecessors do this? There was first an inspiring vision.

Influential University supporter George W. Todd persuaded University President Rush Rhees to locate the University’s College on what was then the Oak Hill golf course, near where the new Medical Center was planned.

Lead donors were decisive to the campaign. No one was more important than George Eastman. At a critical meeting in July 1923, after Rhees presented options for the River Campus ranging from $5 to $10 million, Eastman declared, “I think we’d better run up the ten million flag and see what we get.” Eastman pledged the initial $2.5 million to the campaign.

What made the Rochester campaign unprecedented was the extent to which it involved our entire community. When the General City Campaign opened on November 14, 1924, 600 volunteers attended a dinner in which targets publicly were announced. A Publicity Committee worked incessantly to articulate the case for the campaign, publishing a near-daily Ten Million Dollar Bulletin during the 10-day public campaign.

Ultimately 15,000 letters were sent to potential donors; successive campaign brochures addressed “Our University at the Cross Roads,” “Our University as Teacher and Neighbor,” and “Build for Rochester.” A history of the 1924 campaign records: “There were subscriptions from newsboys, school children, American Legion posts, labor unions, fraternal and other organizations.”

In all there were 13,733 contributors, including support from 68.5 percent of living graduates. Underlying this success was a volunteer leadership that included 668 individuals, organized into 4 core divisions, 10 districts, and 50 teams.

presidentA GREATER UNIVERSITY: The 1924 campaign, which had as its slogan “Ten Millions in Ten Days,” emphasized the intergenerational impact of giving to the University, as shown in publicity materials from the historic effort. (Photo: University Libraries/Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation)

The campaign of 1924 was characterized as “the greatest community project ever undertaken in behalf of higher education.” Along with earlier support for the Eastman School of Music, the campaign of 1924 created the modern University of Rochester.

Now it is our generation’s turn. We are a great research university. In October of this year, we will publicly launch a transformational campaign. By its conclusion in 2016, we envision:

A University whose quality has fortified its place among the leading 20 research universities in this country based upon measurable achievements in medicine, engineering, and life sciences as well as outstanding accomplishment in the humanities, social sciences, performing arts, and our professional schools, with critical new facilities such as the recently completed Goergen Hall for Biomedical Engineering and Optics.

Pivotal to our progress is our faculty. They are our core strength, the fundamental reason that students join us here. In February 2011, for example, Ching Tang, the Doris Johns Cherry Endowed Professor of Chemical Engineering, was named as the recipient of the Wolf Prize for his invention of the organic light-emitting diode, the technology that gave birth to a multibillion-dollar industry that is used today in televisions, cell phones, and computer screens because of its energy efficiency, superior resolution, and thinness. One in three Wolf Prize recipients in physics, chemistry, and medicine has gone on to win the Nobel Prize.

By 2016, we seek a student body that has grown from 8,450 total students in fall 2004 to 10,000 students, while strengthening quality and diversity. A significant measure of our recent progress involves undergraduate applications to the College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering. Last year, we received a record 12,804 applications. This year that number grew by over 1,000 to 13,850 applicants for the Class of 2015. Next year’s entering class will be the most selective in our history as well as the most diverse in its ethnic, racial, linguistic, and geographic composition. Notably, 15 percent of our entering first-year students are from abroad.

Our campaign’s ultimate success will be measured by our support for our students, most significantly in the form of scholarships and fellowships. Our students are our future. They are our nation’s future. To date, our alumni and friends have contributed over $127 million for our students, bringing us students such as Handler Scholar Alejandro López-Samamé who arrived at the Eastman School from his hometown of Lima, Peru, and has already achieved success by appearing as first trumpeter with the National Opera of Peru.

We will continue to grow as the region’s leading employer. As of March 31, 2011, our total full-time equivalent employment grew to 20,128 jobs, a year-to-year gain of 465 jobs, making the University the sixth largest private sector employer in New York State. This was the first period in which we crossed the 20,000 full-time equivalent job threshold.

To put this in different terms, the first decade of the 21st century saw a fundamental transformation in the Rochester economy. During that decade the greater Rochester area lost 43,000 manufacturing jobs. The University, in contrast, increased employment by approximately 50 percent, having begun the 2000 decade with 13,140 jobs.

We are already on the move. College Town, if approved by our board by October of this year, will include up to 500,000 square feet with a hotel and conference center, a YMCA that would offer health and fitness programs in collaboration with the Medical Center along with child care, a 25,000-square-foot bookstore, a gourmet grocery store, office space, and other retail establishments. A transit center operated by the Regional Transit Authority would facilitate public transportation to the University and provide an eagerly awaited parking facility.

On April 8, 2011, New York Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver joined us for the dedication of the nation’s first clinical and translational science building.

Brad Berk, Medical Center chief executive officer, publicly announced that the new 200,000-square-foot building would be known as the Saunders Research Building in honor of Philip Saunders whom Brad earlier that week announced had made a $10 million gift to the Medical Center.

This year our Laboratory for Laser Energetics also celebrates its 40th anniversary. The Laser Lab is participating with Lawrence Livermore and other national labs in one of the 21st century’s most critical energy experiments—the attempt to achieve nuclear fusion ignition in the laboratory, popularly known as NIF. This is the Manhattan Project of our time; as one scientist put it, “a holy cow game changer.” Laser fusion, unlike current nuclear power plants, is safe, cannot melt down, is carbon free, nonradioactive, and potentially will provide an inexhaustible source of energy.

In October we will make the public announcement of the University’s largest capital campaign in our history at our Meliora Weekend. All of you are invited.

Former President Bill Clinton will be our keynote speaker. Meliora Weekend 2011 will feature over 200 events for alumni, parents, and friends from across the University. We anticipate that this year’s Meliora Weekend will be the best attended in our history.

Our time is now. We have the capacity, the will, and the talent. We build on enormous strengths—we have one of the greatest faculties of any research university in this country. We are world-class in programs as variegated as music, optics, financial economics, and neuromedicine. I believe—all of us at the University believe—in our motto, Meliora. We seek to take a great research university and make it stronger. We seek to build an ever stronger Rochester. For we will never forget that we are an urban University, proud to be part of the Rochester community, deeply aware that our progress and Rochester’s success are inextricably linked.