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Lenfest Pledges $48 Million for Endowed Chairs, While Student Aid Enhanced

President Lee C. Bollinger has announced two new steps in support of faculty excellence and student financial aid as the University prepares to launch a $4 billion campaign later this month. 

Columbia trustee Gerry Lenfest  (’58 LAW) has pledged $48 million to endow faculty chairs, consisting of $37.5 million to support professorships in the Arts and Sciences and $10.5 million to support professorships at Columbia Law School.

At the same time, the University has announced that it will enhance undergraduate financial aid in order to eliminate the future loan burden on students from families earning less than $50,000 per year.

“Our upcoming campaign will provide the endowment resources to recruit and support the most outstanding faculty across the University and provide the financial aid needed to ensure that no qualified student is denied the opportunity to attend Columbia based on ability to pay,” President Bollinger said. “Pursuing this mission would be impossible without the extraordinary support of people like Gerry Lenfest, who has done so much over the years to improve the quality of teaching, thinking and living on campus, thereby strengthening Columbia’s capacity to address critical issues of our time.”

The Lenfest Challenge: Promoting Faculty Excellence
Under the terms of the Lenfest gift, which provides for a one-to-one match, donors can establish endowed professorships in the arts and sciences and at the law school with matching gifts of $1.5 million. Given the increasingly competitive nationwide recruiting environment, endowed professorships are are a vital tool for retaining Columbia’s own best faculty and attracting talented scholars to Columbia.  

“What makes Columbia unique is its great tradition of outstanding teaching in all of its schools,” Lenfest said. “I hope that my gift will highlight the importance of teaching, as well as research, and will motivate others to join me in increasing the number of endowed chairs in law and in the arts and sciences. If my challenge is successful, we will build a more robust endowment for faculty compensation and recognition and will make it possible for the talented faculty to grow.”

Over the years, Lenfest has passionately supported the goal of nurturing the high quality of faculty for which Columbia has long been renowned. He has given over $100 million in total to the University, including a gift of $12 million last year to establish the Distinguished Columbia Faculty Awards.  This annual awards program promotes teaching and research excellence in the arts and sciences. At Columbia, this comprises 29 departments in the humanities, the social sciences and the natural sciences. Faculty in these departments teach students in Columbia College, the School of General Studies, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the School of International and Public Affairs, and the School of the Arts.

“Gerry Lenfest’s generosity in support of teaching and learning at Columbia is extraordinary,” said Nick Dirks, vice president for arts and sciences. “His gift provides the major cornerstone of the Arts and Sciences campaign in the area of faculty development, providing matching funds for endowed chairs in fields where our teaching needs are paramount. This gift will allow us to add to the excellence of our faculty, providing opportunities across the disciplines as well as in our core education programs for students to work more closely with faculty throughout their time at Columbia.”

“Gerry’s generosity of time and support has helped sustain the Law School and ensure our growing momentum in key areas of legal scholarship and training,” said Columbia Law School Dean David Schizer. “On so many different levels, Gerry’s dedication and leadership inspire all of us to do more in achieving excellence in our teaching, research and contributions to the legal profession.”

Lessening Students’ Debt Burden and Expanding Their Options for the FutureColumbia is also joining a handful of peer institutions in enhancing financial aid by eliminating the debt burden on students attending Columbia College and the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS). whose families earn less than $50,000 per year.

On the eve of a University capital campaign that has student financial aid as one of its highest priorities, Columbia is taking the step of replacing loans with grants for these undergraduates beginning in academic year 2007–2008.  This includes not just entering freshman but also eligible students in all classes next year. 

Eliminating loans for students with the least ability to pay so that they can graduate debt-free will strengthen Columbia’s ability to attract a socio-economically diverse student body, for which it already holds the record in the Ivy League. Not only will financially challenged students be able to participate more fully in, and contribute to, the undergraduate experience but many of them will now be able to pursue postgraduate career options unencumbered by the need to pay back large student loans.

The announced enhancement to financial aid builds on Columbia’s longstanding commitment to admitting students regardless of their ability to pay the significant costs associated with attending a private college or university. Historically, Columbia has attracted a significantly higher percentage of low-income students than its peer institutions.  For example, Columbia enrolls the highest percentage of Pell grant recipients in the Ivy League; such grants are generally available to students from families earning less that $40,000 per year. 

“I’m proud of Columbia’s longtime leadership in attracting such a diverse student body and providing opportunity to students from families who can least afford to pay for a private college education,” said President Bollinger.  “While full tuition and fees only cover about half the real cost of providing this kind of excellent academic experience, we understand that the price remains dauntingly high to most families.  That is why it is so essential for us to continue expanding our commitment to financial aid that ensures any qualified student can afford to come to Columbia.  The replacement of loans with grants for more students is another step in the right direction.”

For the current academic year, need-based institutional grants to Columbia College and SEAS students total more than $55 million.  The new loan-elimination initiative announced today will add approximately $3.5 million annually to financial-aid expenditures, to be paid through a combination of current funds, including gifts, as well as future fundraising.

A commitment to strengthen financial aid for all qualifying students has led to a goal of $425 million for financial aid endowment for Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science in the “The Columbia Campaign,” scheduled to launch on September 29 and run through 2011. Even before the formal announcement is made, the Campaign has already raised over $35 million in gifts for financial aid endowment in Columbia College and the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Published: Sep 15, 2006
Last modified: Nov 14, 2007