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Washington U. announces $2.2 billion fund-raising drive

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 6, 2012 - Washington University hopes to bring in $2.2 billion in its latest fund-raising campaign, which will dedicate money to a new center for psychiatric research and expanded and improved athletic facilities at its Danforth Campus.

The campaign, titled "Leading Together," is set to end on June 30, 2018. It has already raised more than $1 billion in its initial phase, university officials said as they announced the new fund drive.

Chancellor Mark Wrighton told a gathering Saturday night that the campaign will focus on strengthening the university’s impact in four areas: preparing tomorrow’s leaders, advancing human health, inspiring innovation and entrepreneurship, and enhancing the quality of life.

“Through education, we are fostering the development of men and women who will contribute to some of society’s most complex challenges,” Wrighton said in a statement released by the university. “Through research we create new knowledge and turn it into action to benefit the society we serve. We have the additional responsibility to nurture interdisciplinary work and collaborative efforts that accelerate the pace of progress in discovery and application of knowledge.

“Through our work, we are discovering new treatments for devastating diseases, from Alzheimer’s disease to cancer. We are improving public health and pioneering new sources of affordable, sustainable energy. We are developing strategies to create economic prosperity that will benefit St. Louis and communities everywhere. And, we are preparing talented students to become effective leaders in every area of society."

University trustee Andrew Taylor, chairman and chief executive of Enterprise Holdings, will lead the campaign. His family and its foundation committed $20 million for a center to advance the science underlying the diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric illnesses.

Another large gift, $12 million from alumnus and trustee Gary Sumers and his wife, Rachel, will modernize and expand the campus’ Francis Gymnasium, site of the 1904 Olympics, as well as make improvements to other athletic facilities.

The university broke down the targets for the money like this:

  • $900 million to advance the scholarship, research and creative potential of students and faculty
  • $625 million to attract and retain outstanding faculty
  • $250 million to attract a talented and diverse student body
  • $225 million to strengthen further an exceptional teaching, research and living environment
  • $200 million to enhance excellence throughout the university by increasing unrestricted annual support

In an interview with the Beacon, Wrighton, who is celebrating his 17th anniversary as chancellor at Washington University, said the school’s overall endowment stands at a little more than $5.3 billion. At its highest, in June 2007, it was $5.7 billion, then it lost about 25 percent of its value during the economic crunch.

But, he noted, even though the total is not quite back to what it was at its height, the university also has spent about $1.1 billion from the endowment.

Wrighton said priorities for the fund-raising campaign were developed in a process that began back in 2006, involving consultation with groups on and off campus. At a meeting of the board of trustees in March 2009, a plan was presented that would have cost $4 billion.

“We decided that might be overly ambitious in terms of fund raising,” he said, so they refined the priorities to the package that was announced this weekend.

He said money from the early phase of the campaign has already been spent on the universitywide Institute for Public Health and expansion of the Olin business school, among other programs.

Of the major initiatives for the campaign, Wrighton said expanded athletic facilities are part of a push to improve students’ health and wellness. The emphasis on psychiatric illness is designed to address a subject of medical research that he said is very challenging but often overlooked.

“This is a very large area that has been in a way neglected in the way of major philanthropic support,” he said. “This is the first major gift we have received for the department of psychiatry.”

One goal of the money that is targeted for student support is an increase in financial aid, Wrighton said.

“We want to make Washington University accessible and affordable,” he said. “We have a strong commitment to strengthening the diversity of our student body in every sense, and financial aid is the key to success there.

“As we talked with all seven of our schools, from medicine to arts and sciences, every part of the university agreed that securing additional commitments for financial aid would be a very high priority. In November 2009, we set a goal of $150 million in new dollars, as part of that campaign, and we’re well along in that effort. We hope to do even better than that.”

Wrighton said that about half of his time is spent on raising money, and now that the campaign has been launched officially, he expects to be traveling a lot to visit alumni because much of the support for the university comes from outside the St. Louis area.

“I spend a relatively small amount of time asking someone for money,” he said. “But the cultivation of donors and exploring areas of potential interest take up probably half of my time.”

As the campaign develops, he said, people can expect Washington U. to expand its work in a variety of fields, from cancer genomics and Alzheimer’s disease to energy and sustainability. He also foresees increased international collaborations, for study abroad and for research.

“The problems of global health, energy and environment won’t be solved by a single country,” he said.

Now that he is in his 18th years as chancellor, well beyond the average term for the head of a major research university, does Wrighton expect to be around in 2018 to see the results of the fund-raising campaign?

“I’m planning on it,” he said.

WU fundraising drives:

'70 x '70

1965 - 1970

Goal: $70 million

Total Raised: $70 million

Danforth Foundation Challenge

1973 - 1978

Goal: $120 million

Total Raised: $120 million

ALLIANCE for Washington University

1979 - 1987

Goal: $300 million

Total Raised: $630.5 million

Campaign for Washington University

1995 - 2004

Goal: $1 billion

Total Raised: $1.55 billion

Leading Together

2009 - 2018

Goal: $2.2 billion

Total Raised: $1.1 billion to date

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.