Completion of a Campaign: "A Milestone Moment In the Long and Proud History of Our University"

Issue Date: 
October 15, 2012

[This is the print version of University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg’s celebratory announcement that Pitt achieved its $2 billion capital campaign goal. The speech was delivered Oct. 12, 2012, during Pitt’s Homecoming weekend and 225th anniversary, in Alumni Hall’s J. W. Connolly Ballroom.]

Let me begin by welcoming all of you. It is nice that you were willing to spend at least part of this very nice autumn afternoon here in Alumni Hall. I extend that welcome not only for myself but for our Board of Trustees and, particularly, for our Board Chair Steve Tritch and for the cochairs of our capital campaign committee, Board Vice Chair Eva Tansky Blum and her big brother, Trustee Burt Tansky. 

As you all know, this is a huge birthday year for Pitt. On Feb. 28, 1787, the Pennsylvania legislature approved a charter for the frontier academy that would become our University. That was 225 years ago, and several months before our constitution breathed life into a new nation, the United States of America. 

That frontier school was, of course, modest by modern standards: housed in a log cabin, perched at the edge of the wilderness, and offering a course of study that included such subjects as “mercantile arithmetic, navigation, surveying, and bookkeeping.”

If the school itself was unimposing, its home community was described by some in even more negative terms. According to Stefan Lorant’s history of Pittsburgh, Arthur Lee, “a member of the celebrated Virginia family,” passed through Pittsburgh in 1784. This is how he described what he saw.

Pittsburgh is inhabited almost entirely by Scots and Irish, who live in paltry log-houses . . . There [is] not a priest of any persuasion, nor church, nor chapel; so that they are likely to be damned without the benefit of clergy . . . The place, I believe, will never be very considerable.

Mr. Lee was not alone in holding that unflattering view, but others saw a far brighter future for Pittsburgh. Among them was Hugh Henry Brackenridge, our founder. He led a wide range of civic efforts within the community and later served both in the Legislature and as a Justice of the state Supreme Court.

In all that he did, Mr. Brackenridge was driven by an extraordinary vision for this region. When he viewed the modest settlement that had become his home, he said, “This town must in future time become a place of great manufactory. Indeed, the greatest on the continent or perhaps in the world.” Remember that he was speaking in the 1780s, when America was a land of farmers and hunters and trappers. But generations later, Pittsburgh did become a world center of manufacturing might.

Mr. Brackenridge was equally visionary when it came to education. 

He opened his case for creating an academy here by asserting that “[t]he situation in the town of Pittsburgh is greatly to be chosen for a seat of learning.” Today, of course, Pittsburgh is widely considered to be one of America’s great centers of higher education.

He was equally clear about the high quality of education he envisioned, saying, “I should rejoice to see Pennsylvania at all times able to produce mathematicians, philosophers, historians, and statesmen equal to any in the confederacy.” In the excellence of Pitt’s programs, we see the realization of that dimension of the Brackenridge dream.

He also saw the link between education and economic prosperity that would emerge far more clearly over time. “I do not know that the legislature could do a more acceptable service to the Commonwealth than by endowing a school at this place,” he said. “It will institute knowledge and ability . . . [and] we well know the strength of a state greatly consists in the superior mental powers of the inhabitants.”

These dimensions of the Brackenridge vision are not new to most of you, because I have highlighted them in the past. But there is something else that Mr. Brackenridge also understood: that building and nurturing quality in education, like building and nurturing quality in anything else, is not a cost-free undertaking. Instead, it requires regular, and sometimes substantial, investments.

Consistent with that belief, in addition to a charter, Mr. Brackenridge sought permanent financial support for his new academy. Specifically, he asked his legislative colleagues to create an endowment from the proceeds of the sale of 10,000 acres of public land. Perhaps as a precursor of things to come, the state reduced the land to be sold from 10,000 acres to 5,000 acres and, according to University historian Robert Alberts, sold the land “at so low a price that the money gave very little help.” 

Even though that early state support never materialized, our predecessors kept building. They built as the Pittsburgh Academy became the Western University of Pennsylvania and, finally the University of Pittsburgh. They kept building as our principal campus moved from Downtown to the North Side to Oakland. And they kept building as the University expanded to include important regional campuses in Johnstown, Bradford, Greensburg, and Titusville.

With the construction of the Cathedral of Learning, the University built up as well as out—tying its global identity to its academic skyscraper. The building of the Cathedral became something of an obsession for then-Chancellor John Bowman. He described his feelings this way in letter to the architect, Charles Klauder: “My life is tied up in the idea that the proposed structure will be the most beautiful and outstanding building ever erected.” And Klauder himself said, “No architect in all of history was ever before given such an opportunity. The use of mass and proportion is unlimited; ornamentation is scarcely needed at all; and the whole structure is unhampered by its surroundings.”

Those words describe the dreams of those two key men—the academic and the architect. However, to make their dream a reality, there were major hurdles to overcome. One was a less-than-enthusiastic Board of Trustees. Another was finding funding for such a major project, particularly with the onset of the Great Depression.

The campaign that resulted, born of necessity and driven by these big dreams, has been called “a landmark in the field—a classic example of a very large campaign that used pioneering methods and had striking results.”

Trustees and brothers Andrew and Richard B. Mellon paid off the University’s existing debt and then donated Frick Acres, the land upon which the Cathedral would be built, even though they were not champions of the “tall building project.”

Judge Elbert Gary, the CEO of United States Steel, committed $250,000 in steel rods, bars, girders and beams. By the calculations of Mr. Alberts, “[T]his represented a gift of 7,142 tons of unfabricated steel. It also represented something more important than that. It was a pioneering event, a breakthrough in corporate philanthropy. Gifts from corporations to colleges and universities were virtually unknown.”

An organizational structure—complete with a separate chair and solicitation team—was created to take the campaign to 20 other communities.

And, as a distinctive piece of Pitt’s history, a broad-based community effort was launched, soliciting contributions from school children—who for a 10-cent contribution received a certificate admitting them into to the “fellowship of the builders of the Cathedral of Learning.”
Carlton Ketchum, a professional who helped shape the campaign, described this aspect of it in the following way:

You don’t put up much Cathedral with 97,000 dimes. It took a great deal of work, cost more than $9,700, and broke a basic rule of business, which is that you have wasteage and lower your standard of giving if you make a major effort to collect small amounts. But it did dramatize the project for people. And for years afterward I kept running into young people who chose Pitt as their college because they had once “bought a brick” to help build the Cathedral of Learning.

And, so, the Cathedral became even more than a truly magnificent structure. It came to be viewed as a community treasure and as a symbol of the university that would grow in and around it. The Cathedral’s height makes a bold statement about the scale of our ambitions. Its mass reflects the power of higher education as a force for progress. It symbolizes, through its Nationality Rooms, the value of both diversity and unity. And it stands as a testament to the good that can come when commitment and creativity combine with human generosity—whether from the very wealthy, like the Mellon brothers, or the very powerful, like Judge Gary, or those who lack either wealth or power, like the school children of Pittsburgh.

Our own efforts can be viewed as an extension of the work of those who came before us. Obviously, we have not faced quite the challenges that existed when Pittsburgh was a frontier outpost or when the world was contending with the Great Depression. But we have met daunting tests of our own.

When we launched this effort, the University was just beginning to emerge from a somewhat stagnant period. Our own fundraising consultant had publicly declared that Pitt was not positioned to raise any meaningful sums of money. The widely shared view was that we needed to make the institution more worthy of external support and that we needed to invest a period of years in planning for a campaign and building a 21st-century fundraising organization.

But our trustees disagreed, saying simply that Pitt’s needs were great and that we did not have years to waste. They said that, if there was a need to plan, then we would plan as we went. Because of that history, it is particularly appropriate that we are gathered in the J.W. Connolly Ballroom today because J., our Board chair at the time, championed the position that fundraising needed to be approached with a sense of urgency. 

Once we got started, we reached our first goal of $500 million early. Rather than stopping, we doubled that goal to $1 billion and kept going. When we also got to $1 billion early, we doubled our goal again. And here is where we stand today: 

• with a campaign total that is more than eight times the $251 million that we raised in what was then our record-setting bicentennial campaign; 

• with a campaign total that is more than four times our initial $500 million goal for this campaign; 

• and with a campaign total that is larger—and I believe that it is about twice as large—than the largest total ever raised for any purpose at any time in Western Pennsylvania. 

Our very impressive and inspiring “bottom line” is this: more than 182,000 donors have contributed more than $2 billion to the University of Pittsburgh as a part of this campaign.

Those are numbers upon which we might easily linger, so let me break them down for you.

• More than 150,000 donors have contributed as much as $1,000 to this campaign.

• More than 22,000 donors have given between $1,000 and $10,000 to this campaign.

• More than 6,100 donors have given between $10,000 and $100,000 to this campaign.

• More than 2,300 donors have given between $100,000 and $1 million to this campaign.

• More than 250 donors have given between $1 million and $5 million to this campaign.

• Forty-seven donors have given between $5 million and $25 million to this campaign.

• And 11 donors have given more than $25 million to this campaign.

Of the more than 300 donors who have contributed more than $1 million to this campaign, 90 had never made a past gift of any size to the University. And nearly half of the total amount raised— $992 million—came from donors outside of Pennsylvania. This shows, as also is true of our research efforts, that, in fundraising, too, Pitt is a powerful magnet for attracting funds into the Commonwealth, and particularly into our home communities. When we launched this campaign, at Discovery Weekend in October of 2000, I said that the dollar total raised was less important than the ways in which the funds were used. Let’s think, then, about the campaign from that perspective.

It attracted gifts of such historic size that they led to the naming of two key schools in honor of their benefactors—the Swanson School of Engineering and the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.

It attracted gifts that helped us construct buildings that physically transformed our campuses. Some of the best-known new construction projects are here in Pittsburgh. Among them are the Petersen Events Center, the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the Baierl Student Recreation Center, the Duratz Football Complex, the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, and the Petersen Sports Complex. 

We also cleaned the exterior of the Cathedral and renovated the interiors of other buildings—creating, among other important spaces, the Hearst Life Skills Center, the McCarl Center for Non-Traditional Student Success, the Charity Randall Theatre, the Sarris Clinic at the Starzl Transplantation Institute, the Steiner Atrium in the Katz School, and the Hilda Willis Academic Center.

And we clearly are not done building, as is reflected in the construction of our new Fifth Avenue residence hall and the new addition to our Graduate School of Public Health. That latter project has been generously supported by Becky and John Surma, and through their generosity, the Surmas, the dean, and I hope to attract additional investors.

Critical construction activity also has occurred on all four of our regional campuses. Some of these projects have been nothing short of transformational. They include the Broadhurst Science Center at Pitt-Titusville, Blaisdell Hall and the Harriet Wick Chapel at Pitt-Bradford, and the Campana Chapel & Lecture Hall at Pitt-Greensburg.
And, of course, the “physical side” of this campaign was not limited to Western Pennsylvania buildings. Instead, we also benefited from the extraordinarily generous gift of 6,000 acres of fossil-rich land in Wyoming, now named after its donor as the Allen L. Cook Spring Creek Preserve.

Campaign gifts permitted us to launch and support initiatives that were as important and wide-ranging as the University’s Center for Energy, which has been generously supported by the Richard King Mellon Foundation; the Ford Institute for Human Security, supported by the Ford Motor Company; the Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration; the Hillman Fellows Program for Innovative Cancer Research; the LaVonne and Glen Johnson Institute for Responsible Leadership; the Richard King Mellon Foundation Institute for Pediatric Research; three student-athlete life-skills programs funded by John and Cathy Pelusi; the Gertrude and John Petersen Institute for Nanoscience and Engineering; the Pittsburgh Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases, which was started with support from the DSF Foundation and the Scaife Family Foundation; the Dr. Richard and Dorothy Raizman Vaccine Research Discovery Laboratory; the Frieda and Saul Shapira BRCA Cancer Research Initiative; the Dorothy and Richard Simmons Center for Interstitial Lung Disease; the John Swanson Institute for Technical Excellence; the Dr. Gordon Vanscoy Pharmaceutical Endowment; and the Vascular Medicine Institute, which has been generously supported by the Institute for Transfusion Medicine and the Hemophilia Foundation of Western Pennsylvania.

Donors endowed three deanships—the U.S. Steel Dean in the Swanson School, the Ralph and Bettye Bailey Dean in the Dietrich School, and the Bernice and Morton Lerner Chair, held by the dean of the Honors College, as well as creating an endowment to support the Hillman University Librarian.

We endowed 145 chairs and professorships, permitting us to recruit, retain, and support high-performing faculty members throughout the University. Obviously, I cannot list them all, but to convey some sense of their breadth, they include the Herbert and Grace Boyer Chair in Molecular Biology; the Doreen Boyce Chair in Information Sciences, funded by the Buhl Foundation; the Jane and Carl Citron Chair in Colon Cancer; the Connolly Family Chair in the Stroke Institute; the Charles Crow Chair in English; the Helen Faison Chair in Education, funded by a group of local foundations; the Dr. Albert Ferguson Chair in Orthopaedics; the FISA/Paralyzed Veterans of America Chair in Rehabilitation Science; the Philip Hallen Chair in Community Health and Social Justice, created by the Falk Fund; the Monto and Carol Ho Chair in Infectious Diseases and Mircobiology; the Joseph Koslow Chair in Pharmacy; the Samuel McCullough Chair in Finance; the Gerald McGinnis Chair in Bioengineering; two engineering chairs endowed by Professor Marlin Mickle to honor his father and mother; the Thomas O’Brien Chair in Strategy; the Tom Olafson Chair in Entrepreneurial Studies; the Arnold Palmer Chair in Cancer Prevention; the Sampson Family Chair in Thoracic Surgical Oncology; the Ronald Salvitti Chair in Ophthalmology Research; the Frank Sarris Chair in Transplantation Biology; and the Sandra and Thomas Usher Chair in Melanoma. Tom Usher, I also should remind everyone, served as chair of the campaign through its first $1 billion. And remember, that impressive list is just a fraction of the 145 chairs and professorships endowed as a part of this campaign. But there is an even bigger number coming.

Meeting one of our greatest needs, particularly as state support continues to decline, and advancing one of our highest priorities, we created nearly 600 new endowed scholarships and fellowships. These will provide perpetual support to students enrolled in virtually every program on all five of our campuses. Also important is the fact that we dramatically increased the sums required to create such endowed accounts, meaning that the payouts from new scholarship and fellowship endowments will be higher than they were from endowed accounts created before the campaign.

However measured, this is a milestone moment in the long and proud history of our University. It means that more than 182,000 donors respect the quality and impact of the University of Pittsburgh enough to invest more than $2 billion of their own money to help secure its future. That is an uplifting statement. It also is a statement that carries serious stewardship responsibilities.

Every morning when I walk into the Cathedral of Learning, one message that the magnificence of the building conveys to me is that the people who built it obviously thought that important work would be conducted here at Pitt and that we had better not let them down. The same is true of these campaign contributions. People have taken their money, which could have been put to many other good uses, and said, through their gifts, that their belief in Pitt has made this University a high priority. 

In our stewardship role, then, it is important to note that reaching our $2 billion campaign goal was not Pitt’s only significant victory of the past year. We successfully coped with what seemed to be a never-ending bomb-threat siege, in the process both displaying and further building institutional character. We effectively resisted a second consecutive year of deep and disproportionate cuts to our state support. And we continued to climb ever higher within the ranks of the country’s finest research universities. 

To highlight just three examples that I have shared with you in recent months:

• We claimed our fourth Rhodes Scholar since 2005, a record equaled by only one other public university, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And through their receipt of many other national awards, our students continued to demonstrate that they can effectively compete against the very best students from the very best colleges and universities in the country.

• We were one of just 10 universities to have three or more faculty members elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Stanford led the way with six; Berkeley and Princeton each claimed four; and Pitt, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Penn, the University of California at San Diego and the University of Washington each had three.

• And the National Science Foundation ranked Pitt among the country’s top five universities in terms of total federal science and engineering research and development support won by the members of our faculty. That placed us just behind Johns Hopkins, Washington, Michigan, and Penn and ahead of every other university in the country, including Stanford, the University of California at San Diego, Columbia, North Carolina and Wisconsin, the second five universities in that very distinguished top 10.

So even as we were working hard to achieve our campaign goal, we were working even harder to advance the overarching and never-ending goal set by our trustees 12 years ago, in the same year that we publicly launched this campaign: “By aggressively supporting the advancement of Pitt’s academic mission, we will clearly and consistently demonstrate that this is one of the finest and most productive universities in the world.”

Our academic successes have placed us in some very good company. But today, I want to close by emphasizing another dimension of the good company that we have been keeping—the company that enabled us to be successful in this $2 billion capital campaign. I am speaking, of course, about the company of our donors—you and the other generous individuals and organizations that invested in Pitt but could not join us to celebrate this afternoon.

Obviously, everyone who is a part of Pitt or who depends upon Pitt or who will depend upon Pitt in the years ahead always will be grateful to you. So, on their behalf, I extend a heartfelt and most sincere expression of thanks. And on behalf of this community, I also pledge that we will keep working, as hard and effectively as we can, to show that we are deserving of your faith in us. It is wonderful to be in your company.

When you think about what we have accomplished together, it is not hard to imagine that our own successors might look at this period in the life of Pitt, much as we have looked back on the days of Mr. Brackenridge and Chancellor Bowman. If they do, I hope they will say that we saw the right things, that we believed in the right things, and that we did the right things. Hopefully, they also will conclude that the chapter we now are writing in the long and proud history of Pitt is one of it finest periods. If they do, a large share of the credit will belong to you. Thank you, and Hail to Pitt!