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BU Campaign Gala Celebrates Greatness

“We thank you, 835 million times”


Gazing from the podium at the hundreds of BU supporters gathered for the Campaign for Boston University’s Celebrate Greatness Gala at Manhattan’s majestic Gotham Hall last Thursday, President Robert A. Brown declared his passion for numbers. And there was a lot to love about the numbers he reviewed with those sharing what he calls BU’s journey to greatness, a group of nearly 350 alumni donors, University trustees and overseers, college deans, and administration officials. It was a festive, jovial evening of Terrier pride and talent, emceed by NBC Today weekend coanchor Erica Hill (COM’98), with performances by the Sons of Serendip and the James Montgomery (DGE’69, CAS’71) Band.

Flashing on twin jumbo screens was a litany of numbers that marked what Brown called evidence of BU’s “march to excellence”—the University’s global ranking of 37, more than 50 new endowed professorships, 194 new scholarship funds, a record 54,700 applicants for next year’s freshman class, and $350 million awarded annually for externally supported University research, to name a few. But the number that drew the most thunderous applause was $835 million. That, as of the time participants took their seats at tables adorned with towering Calla lilies, reflected the Campaign for BU’s progress since it began in September 2012, thanks to thousands of  donations and several major gifts, toward its $1 billion goal.

Erica Hill at the Campaign for Boston University Gala

Erica Hill (COM’98), NBC Today weekend coanchor, emceed the Campaign for Boston University’s Celebrate Greatness Gala on April 16 at New York’s Gotham Hall. Photo by Arnold Brower

The evening also marked the official launch of the William Fairfield Warren Society, named in honor of the University’s first president and formed to recognize the generosity and impact of major donors. A Methodist minister, Warren served BU for nearly 40 years, as acting president of the Boston Theological School, which would become the School of Theology, BU’s founding college, (1866–1873), as University president (1873–1903), and then as dean of the School of Theology (1903–1911). It was Warren whose vision created BU as a pioneering, inclusive institution that welcomed and embraced scholars of both genders and all races. Among the more than 100,000 alumni and friends whose donations, large and small, have updated the infrastructure and elevated the scholarly international standing of BU since the campaign started, the Warren Society’s 117 families and individuals are those whose contributions have changed the faces of the Charles River and Medical Campuses, with new buildings, state-of-the-art laboratories and practice rooms, an athletic field, an honors college, and scores of endowed professorships, scholarships, and academic centers of excellence.

Many were in attendance to receive their medals, among them trustee Rajen Kilachand (Questrom’74, Hon.’14), who endowed the Arvind and Chandan Nandlal Kilachand Honors College, named for his parents; Tony Award–winning Broadway producers and College of Fine Arts donors Bonnie Comley and Stewart F. Lane (CFA’73), who recently endowed a fund to create a new musical theater concentration at the School of Theatre; trustee and Creative Writing Program and WBUR benefactor Robert J. Hildreth; Peter Paul Career Development Professorship endower and trustee Peter T. Paul (Questrom’71); and trustee Allen Questrom (Questrom’64) and Kelli Questrom, whose recent record gift of $50 million will dramatically expand the former School of Management, now renamed the Questrom School of Business. The couple drew a rousing standing ovation.

elevated view of the Campaign for Boston University Gala

More than 300 BU leaders, alumni, and friends were at the Celebrate Greatness Gala. Photo by Arnold Brower

The evening unfolded to the lush strains of classical repertoire by the Palaver Strings, a group of young musicians formed in 2012 at CFA. Their music filled the cavernous former bank, a century-old Greek revival building whose rotunda is capped by a stained glass skylight resembling an outsized Fabergé egg. It was a night for expressions of deep gratitude—for BU educations, for alumni loyalty and generosity, and for Brown himself. “In Bob Brown we have a visionary leader,” said trustee Kenneth Feld (Questrom’70), CEO of Feld Entertainment, chair of the Campaign for Boston University, and a William Fairfield Warren founding fellow. “At the risk of embarrassing him at this family gathering, we are extremely lucky that the Board of Trustees was wise enough to grab him a decade back,” Feld said. “By every measure, this university is far stronger today than it was a decade ago.”

Feld likened the campaign to a “NASCAR race without the pit stops.” It’s “the campaign that simply refused to pull over,” he said. “We keep going, and going—and not only that, we keep getting faster,” citing the recent “truly transformative” Questrom gift. “You have picked a good cause,” Feld told the attendees. “As President Warren said more than a century ago, ‘A good beginning has been made.’ Your investments are going to look smarter and smarter. The best is yet to come.”

As the guests dined on striped bass with squid ink risotto, video montages spotlighted the achievements of gifted students, faculty, and alumni, including the story of America’s Got Talent finalists Sons of Serendip, who hail from BU: harpist Mason Morton (CFA’12), cellist and vocalist Kendall Ramseur (CFA’12), pianist and guitarist Cordaro Rodriguez (LAW’12), and lead vocalist Micah Christian (STH’13). The group could be a metaphor for BU’s emergence as a major research university, which, as Brown put it, is also “committed to a balance between the liberal arts and professional education.” Their varied disciplines reflect a BU where students can fashion interdisciplinary majors and combine engineering with the arts, public health with international relations—or, as in Christian’s case, theology with music performance.

Boston University President Robert A. Brown at the Campaign for BU Gala in New York

Brown paid tribute to the generous donations of alumni and friends. Photo by Arnold Brower

Brown explained that he arrived at BU nearly a decade ago with a three-pronged plan: “Hire faculty who are leaders in their fields, build an infrastructure to support them, and communicate what we want to accomplish.”

“How did all this happen?” he asked, pointing to BU’s tremendous gains, from scholarship funding to endowed professorships to the number of versatile, motivated graduates making a difference in the world. “It’s the power of the plan, and the support of our alumni and friends,” he went on, adding, “We must continue to imagine a better BU. We can’t stop now. We’ve shown what we can do. We need more opportunities for our students, better resources for our faculty. We’re on a journey to become one of America’s best private universities. Stay with us.”

Joined by Board of Trustees chair Robert A. Knox (CAS’74, Questrom’75), a William Fairfield Warren founding fellow, trustee Richard C. Shipley (Questrom’68,’72), also a William Fairfield Warren founding fellow, toasted the assembled Warren fellows. “We thank each and every one of you, 835 million times,” said Shipley. At the conclusion of the program Brown lifted a glass of champagne to all with the words, “Hail, BU.”

Then it was time for a surprise musical coda. Taking the stage with his band, James Montgomery recalled his very first concert, at BU’s Marsh Chapel, in 1969. Allen and Kelli Questrom got up to do a graceful spin to a lively blues number. And as the attendees trickled out of Gotham Hall onto Broadway, many wore medals, but all were proud.


3 Comments on BU Campaign Gala Celebrates Greatness

  • Elizabeth on 04.22.2015 at 8:15 am

    What a relief — now we can hire those additional administrators the university desperately needs!

    • Smarter Child on 04.22.2015 at 11:36 am

      Can you elaborate on this comment? Did you read about the endowed professorships mentioned in this story?

      • kitty on 04.22.2015 at 4:34 pm

        That’s right, Smarter Child, there have been endowed chairs and new faculty positions, among other initiatives to strengthen faculty over the past 10 years.

        Unfortunately there has been no parallel strategy to address the professional staff that supports not only the academic endeavors of the University but also those of direct student services and all the other functions of a university that operates 24/7/365. A good part of Boston University’s reputation is based on these non-academic services and functions.

        For those who are not faculty, the past decade has been one of assuming the responsibilities of several jobs with no additional compensation or recognition, a “take it or leave it” approach to concerns about the pressure on staff–especially those involved in direct student services, and no overall strategy for the thoughtful use of resources. The absence of attention, maybe even interest, from the administration for non-faculty employees has been painfully obvious for years, and describes the change from a place where staff love to work, to place that pays the bills and is short on recognition of effort and superior service.

        Paying so little attention to this large component of Boston University, practically as a policy decision, leads to fewer and fewer staff developing the loyalty to the institution that distinguished the university for many years. Staff have waited patiently for the President to accomplish his goals for the faculty and academic programs and for some part of the focus to shift to the staff that supports our students and the operation of the university.

        That’s what Elizabeth was talking about!

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