September 30, 2007

Aramark CEO dishes up $25 million donation

Joseph Neubauer (M.B.A., ’65), Chief Executive Officer of Aramark Corporation, is about to provide a more diverse menu to students at the U of C. Alongside curly fries and buttered pizza, he will offer 20 new, young professors.

Through the Neubauer Family Foundation, Neubauer and his family have donated $25 million to the University for the establishment of the Neubauer Family Fellows Program, aimed at bringing promising young scholars to Chicago. College deans will nominate recent Ph.D. recipients from all disciplines for Neubauer Family Assistant Professorships, which will last five years and will guarantee leave time for independent research. Beginning in 2009, four professors will be chosen each year for the Fellowships, until a total of 20 Neubauer Fellows are supported in perpetuity. The gift pushes the University’s chief capital campaign, the Chicago Initiative, past its $2-billion goal.

Though by far the largest, the gift is not the first given to the University by the Neubauers. A $10-million donation in 2002 established Neubauer Fellowships in the Graduate School of Business and gave support to graduate students in the humanities. At the time, Neubauer’s wife, Jeanette Lerman-Neubauer, was quoted in the Chicago Chronicle as saying the terrorist attacks of 2001 were a motivation for her donation: “In turbulent times, when the very assumptions of civilization are being attacked, the best way for us to fight terrorism is to support humanism.”

Before that, the Neubauers had established a chair in Entrepreneurship and Finance at the GSB, and had diverted wedding and company gifts to Chicago. The same article quoted Neubauer that: “[The scholarships] give access to American higher education to ambitious and talented students who have ‘fire in their belly’ to learn, to graduate, and to go out and become change agents.”

Ardent ambition is a trait familiar to Neubauer. He traveled alone by boat from Israel to the U.S. at age 14 and attended Tufts University, where he was head of food services for his fraternity. After graduation, he was awarded a full scholarship to Chicago’s GSB. After stints with Chase Manhattan Bank and PepsiCo, he returned to his college expertise, joining Aramark Corp., where he was eventually elected chairman and CEO. Aramark is a professional services organization with a yearly revenue over $11 billion. Among hundreds of institutional clients, the University of Chicago purchases its food services from Aramark.

“This wonderful gift to the University will provide us with a powerful new tool for recruiting and retaining outstanding junior faculty across the University. We are profoundly grateful to the Neubauers for their continued support of the University of Chicago and for their commitment to ideas, research, and education,” said President Robert Zimmer in a University press release on the donation.

In an e-mail to the MAROON, Provost Thomas Rosenbaum stressed that the donation will benefit the entire University and not individual divisions or departments.

“[Nominations and selections] will be a University-wide competition with no preconceived notions,” he wrote. “I want the University of Chicago to be the destination of choice for the world’s most talented researchers and teachers, across the spectrum of disciplines and particularly for those who cannot be easily categorized by discipline!”

However, a safety valve seems to be built into the Fellowships: Five years long, they are one year shorter than Chicago’s six-year tenure evaluation period.

“The aim of the fund is more holistic: to give the Fellows a jumpstart on their careers,” wrote Rosenbaum.

The Chicago Initiative, which will continue until June 2008, is responsible for funding such projects as the Gordon Center for Integrative Science, the Ratner Athletics Center, the Harper GSB building, and the Max Palevsky Residential Commons. The Neubauers’ recent gift raises the family’s total contribution to $36 million. “This gift was the result of an ongoing conversation between the University’s needs and the Neubauers’ desire to contribute,” said Karen Alexander, associate vice president of development. “There was a happy confluence, and it happened to propel the Chicago Initiative over our $2-billion goal.”

Announcement of the gift came days after news that the National Institute of Health was awarding $23 million to research at the University of Chicago Medical Center as part of the establishment of a nationwide consortium of translational research institutions.