As I enter my third academic year at Roosevelt University, I am reminded that this fall we celebrate the 70th anniversary of our move to the beautiful Auditorium Building in downtown Chicago. In September 1947, classes began here with 5,000 students, a roster of talented professors and staff, and a growing national reputation as a progressive college deeply committed to social justice and equal educational opportunity for all.
I am proud this legacy has continued. The first community of students, staff and professors was undaunted by the huge Auditorium Building, which had fallen on hard times. Years of renovation and hard work were needed to convert the decayed hotel into a modern college with labs, classrooms and offices. These pioneers were also undeterred by the school’s seemingly insurmountable financial challenges, and were unconcerned as Roosevelt weathered attacks from antagonists who labeled us the “little red school house” for our acceptance of black, Jewish, Japanese and refugee students, and our insistence on freedom of speech. Today we remain optimistic and proud of our heritage, as we continue to honor our founding values.
This year we celebrate two anniversaries.
The first is the 50th anniversary of the restoration of the wonderful Auditorium Theatre. Completely renovated, it reopened in 1967 as Roosevelt’s gift to Chicago’s cultural life — the original vision of our founding president Edward Sparling. The second is the 150th anniversary of the Chicago Musical College, which joined with Roosevelt in 1954. Along with the theatre program, the Chicago Musical College is the core of our thriving Chicago College of Performing Arts.
And we continue to celebrate our legacy. Over the past two years, we have endorsed national movements to protect our immigrant, refugee, international and undocumented students; advanced work on sustainability and climate change initiatives; continued support for our LGBTQ community; and confirmed our legacy of nondiscrimination. We have expanded programs to enable first-generation and marginalized students to succeed in the classroom, built a professional mentorship program pairing students with successful alumni, trustees and friends; created new programs and enhanced continuing majors and, above all, worked to create a culture of academic excellence to prepare students for their futures as citizens and leaders. We have further enhanced our connections to the region’s community colleges.
All this in the face of serious financial issues, caused in part by the lack of a state budget for two years, leading to the loss of state Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants that enable our students to afford their education, and help us meet our own debt burden and enrollment challenges.
The good news
Our alumni and friends have stepped up with very generous gifts to build scholarship and academic resources, led by our largest gift ever — a $25 million bequest from the Rosaline and Jacob Cohn family. We achieved even more success during recent months, raising another $16.3 million in major grants and gifts. With the restored Illinois budget, MAP grants are again available to needy students.
In addition, and with help from our hardworking Board of Trustees, we have made very difficult decisions. We have put on the market or sold two of our properties: the Gage Building and University Center. We have created the “Building a Stronger Roosevelt” initiative that has enabled us to restructure academic and administrative units and downsize our faculty, administration and staff, in the process saving millions of dollars. Over the past two years, we have built a team of outstanding administrators and faculty who are working hard to increase enrollment, retain students, and create a comprehensive and effective college curriculum.
Finally, we have brought thousands of people to Roosevelt University to examine the meaning of the American Dream at the second annual American Dream Reconsidered Conference this fall, featuring U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Over the past two years, our faculty, students and national leaders have argued, debated and reflected on what this dream means for our community. Watch for news of the third annual American Dream Reconsidered Conference in 2018.
With your support, we envision a strong and vibrant future. We are aiming for an enrollment of 5,000 by 2020. We will make Roosevelt a destination for students seeking an urban, non-sectarian university with distinctive programs in liberal arts, science, business, performing arts, pharmacy and education. In fact, at the same time that we recognize our 70 years in the Auditorium Building, we have been updating, remodeling and creating classrooms, offices and labs to accommodate today’s students. We will offer students expanded internships and unique opportunities for civic engagement, as well as a rich array of lectures, workshops and seminars for students, alumni and friends of the University. We will continue our proud legacy of inclusion, academic excellence and student success.
I am constantly reminded of the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt in the early years of our University. I will end with her very first speech on behalf of the newborn college in 1945, when she proclaimed that Roosevelt would be “dedicated to the enlightenment of the human spirit through the constant search for truth, and to the growth of the human spirit through knowledge, understanding and goodwill.”
Please don’t hesitate to let me know your thoughts and ideas about Roosevelt University. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, I look forward to hearing from you!