University celebrates donors and those who inspire them, announces anonymous $6 million commitment

Case Western Reserve’s annual Momentum event included a new twist this year: Instead of celebrating only those whose philanthropy advances the university, it also cheered individuals who inspired such generosity.

Endowed professorships, one of the top priorities of the capital campaign, took center stage Wednesday night in the Kelvin + Eleanor Smith Foundation Ballroom at the Tinkham Veale University Center. President Barbara R. Snyder shared news about not one but three new endowed faculty positions, including one that already had an inaugural appointee.

First, anonymous donors have committed $6 million to the university. Part of the funds—$4.5 million—will go toward the creation of an endowed professorship at the law school and support for scholarships. The amount marks the single largest law commitment in the history of the school.

The remainder of the commitment, meanwhile, will fund an endowed faculty position for music within the College of Arts and Sciences. While the individuals did not want to say who they were, they were eager to explain why they gave. In a letter to President Snyder they explained: “… we have profound admiration and affection for this university. As native Clevelanders, we are eager to aid the renaissance of Cleveland, and Case Western Reserve is a vital and leading force in the positive and amazing movement of Cleveland back into the ranks of America’s leading cities. “

Through these commitments, they added, “we wish to provide a legacy of continued excellence at our university.”

So far, President Snyder said, the university’s capital campaign has led to the creation and/or completion of 75 endowed professorships. But, as President Snyder explained in this video shown at the event, Case Western Reserve still needs more of these positions to recognize existing excellence – and attract still more talented scholars to campus.

Momentum also featured university trustee Thalia Dorwick and the Eirik Børve Professorship in Modern Languages that she created. Named in honor of the man who introduced her to an immensely successful and rewarding career in textbook publishing, the professorship aims to support innovation in foreign language teaching. The inaugural recipient is Yasuhiro Shirai, known for pioneering work at the University of Pittsburgh regarding precisely how people learn a first or second language. He also is the new chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures.

Dorwick, who earned her undergraduate and doctorate degrees here and then went on to a career in academia before transitioning to publishing, noted that the act of endowing a chair not only provided an opportunity to support a particular discipline, but also the satisfaction of advancing the university’s mission.

The event also featured Hunter Peckham, the Donnell Institute Professor of Biomedical Engineering, who has dedicated his academic career to restoring function for those paralyzed by spinal cord injury. Peckham noted that when he received his endowed chair, he decided to use some of the funds to create a lectureship focused on the kinds of research he and colleagues were pursuing to improve patients’ lives.

The program had two purposes—first to let leading scientists to campus to see Case Western Reserve’s cutting-edge work, and second to introduce students to opportunities after graduation. A third priority also emerged in time: recruiting some of those visiting speakers to become faculty at Case Western Reserve. Ultimately the university landed five new recruits through the program, including two who became department chairs.

Multiply this example by the roughly 300 other endowed professorships on this campus, Peckham said, and “you begin to understand how [endowing a chair] can change a person’s life and the world.”