by Catherine Zhang
It’s not every day Northwestern receives the largest single donation of its 164-year-long history.
On Wednesday, however, over 1,000 members of the Northwestern community gathered to celebrate just such an occasion: Roberta Buffett Elliott‘s donation of over $100 million to the university. President Morton Schapiro and a panel of six Northwestern representatives convened on the stage of a packed Pick-Staiger Concert Hall to honor the gift, which would create the Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Studies.
“It’s an incredible demonstration of generosity, and on a scale that Northwestern hasn’t seen before,” said university archivist Kevin Leonard.
“It’s a wonderful testament to what Northwestern has already been doing in the global area,”said Dan Rodriguez, the Dean of the Northwestern University School of Law, “But more importantly, it really expands the scope of our global footprint.”
The establishment of the Institute, he said, would send the message to prospective students and undergraduates that “Northwestern University is an ideal place to study the problems and issues of a complex world.”
The gift, which brings the total amount raised by the University’s “We Will” campaign to over $2 billion, marks a tremendous step towards the $3.75 billion campaign goal. According to Schapiro, Elliott funded the entire gift immediately so that the university could start its search for a founding director.
Dong Huynh, an alumnus of the College of Arts and Sciences, class of 2013, said he heard the announcement and wanted to come out and celebrate Elliott’s generosity.
“It’s a great step to put Northwestern on the map, in terms of global outreach and interdisciplinary research and major issues,” he said.
Elliott, who graduated from Weinberg in 1954 with a degree in history, attended the panel along with her husband David Elliott, her brother, Warren Buffett, and many of her family members.
William Osborn, Chair of the Board of Trustees, spoke briefly about the donation, stating that it would “positively and forever transform our global studies programs and amplify Northwestern’s impact on the world.” He then ceded the floor to Schapiro.
“I am elated to report that Northwestern University has received the single largest gift in the University’s history,” he said. “We now have the resources in place to transform nearly every corner of the University’s global programs.”
“Thank you for the trust you’ve shown in us. We will not let you down,” he added emphatically.
The event featured a wide arrange of panelists, who offered multifaceted opinions as to the importance of resolving global issues. Panelists included Harvey Young, from the School of Communications, Gary Saul Morson, Professor of the Arts and Humanities, Joel Mokyr, Professor of Arts and Sciences, Claudia Leung, a Feinberg student, Beth Shakman Hurd, Professor of Political Science, and Everette Dennis, the Dean of Northwestern University in Qatar.
The panel discussed the importance of the Buffett Institute in the upcoming future. Hurd, who directed a research project on the politics of religious freedom, stressed the importance of thinking creatively to contribute to richer conversations about the intersection of religion, law, and global affairs.
Leung contributed her experiences working in China and Tanzania, emphasizing that the Institute for Global Studies would help others like her further their objectives. Worldly experiences such as working in other countries, she added, are what led her to adopt a more worldly perspective and pursue medicine.
“[They] provided a background for me to want to experience things for myself.”
Harvey offered a vision on how two different areas of studies, humanities and social sciences, could unite to fulfill the goals that the Institute would set. Engaged learning, he said, would “supply the critical methods to engage communities in meaningful exchange,”as well as challenge “a set of attitudes that [communities] take for granted.”
Dennis outlined the ways that economic growth contributes to life expectancy and overall productivity, adding that global media is becoming increasingly relevant to everyone’s lives.
After the panel, Elliott was escorted onto the stage by her brother Warren to join the panelists and Schapiro onstage to accept an antique map of the world.
Among the things her gift will support are hiring new interdisciplinary faculty members, funding interdisciplinary research, hiring a director for the Buffett Institute, providing international students with scholarships, expanding an existing visiting scholars program, providing travel grants to students, providing funding for graduate student fellowships and creating a postdoctoral fellows program.