Chicago Initiative reaches halfway point

By Meredith Meyer

The Chicago Initiative, an ambitious capital campaign launched in April 2002, has raised just under $1 billion to date despite the difficult economy, putting it on schedule to meet its goal of raising $2 billion in five years.

It also marks a relatively new effort by the University to raise its endowment closer to those of peer institutions.

“This has been accomplished on an endowment well under half the size of the remaining four top-ranked universities—Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford,” said President Don Randel.

In discussing the Initiative, Randel referred to London’s The Sunday Times, which cited Chicago as “one of the five best in the world,” ahead of the venerable English universities Cambridge and Oxford.

Randel attributed Chicago’s ability to assume this reputation in spite of its modest endowment to the quality of the faculty and students, and the University’s unique curriculum.

The Initiative will create funds to recruit faculty, increase the financial aid budget, promote research in the biological and physical sciences, and build new facilities, including a 400,000-square-foot building for the Graduate School of Business.

While successful to date, the initiative suffered last year as economic uncertainties made donors tentative about making major gifts.

One second-year in the College who worked on Annual Giving, which constitutes $90 million dollars of the total Initiative, noted a decrease in contributions after Chicago sided with the University of Michigan’s highly contentious admission’s policy—a policy of affirmative action which made its way to the Supreme Court.

“I spoke to many alumni who were surprised and even angry at the University’s decision to support a quota system,” the student said. “After Don Randel’s piece was published in The Chicago Magazine, some alumni that I spoke with decided to withhold their contributions altogether.”

Karen Alexander, associate vice-president of communications, said that Randel’s piece was met with mixed response. She said that it may have made a difference in contributions from occasional donors looking for an excuse not to give, but that it made no significant change in contributions from regular donors.

Chicago’s development program, which heads the University’s fundraising campaigns, hopes to have a more successful fundraising year and to continue the growth it has experienced over the past five years.

The program is relatively young compared to those in peer institutions. Alexander said that Chicago, which came late to the modern concept of university fundraising, does not and may never have the endowment of Harvard. This may arise, in large part, from the school’s character.

“Chicago is a school that prided itself on being a school of first generation students,” she said. “There is not that same legacy of great wealth or giving as there is in Harvard or Princeton.”

Alexander said that Chicago alumni, who have an average giving rate of 27 percent, are very loyal but generally not as financially comfortable as alumni at the aforementioned institutions.

Inching closer to its peer institutions, the University plans to bolster its endowment with $290 million of the Initiative’s funds. This will be divided between graduate and undergraduate financial aid budgets, with $100 million allocated to undergraduate financial aid. Currently, undergraduate financial aid draws heavily on the University’s budget, with half the students in the College receiving aid.

The Initiative will most affect research in the biological and physical sciences.  Nearly $1 billion will be used to build an interdivisional research building, planned for 2005. It promises to bring biological and physical scientists together in one 430,000 square foot building.

The funds will also support critical research programs, in an effort to maintain Chicago’s legacy of scientific discovery and the construction of the Comer Children’s Hospital.

Another $275 million will be used to support 35 endowed professorships and provide funds for visiting professors, guest artists, term appointments and lectureships.

The remaining $390 million has been allocated to the Campus Master Plan, finalized in 1999, which included the building of Max Palevsky Commons, the Ratner Athletics Complex, the new Business School facility, and plans for new creative and performing arts facilities.