Three women poised to take first-ever higher-ed leadership roles

On Monday, three women will create history in the Rochester area as each one officially becomes the first woman to preside over her respective college or university.

Angela Sims
Angela D. Sims

As University of Rochester, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School all welcome their new presidents, seven out of 12 colleges in Monroe County and its bordering counties will be led by women and six will be first-female presidents.

The percentage of female presidents locally will be nearly double the national average of 30.1 percent.

“My first thought is Susan B. Anthony must be smiling down on Rochester right now!” wrote Anne M. Kress, president of MCC.

RBJ interviewed by email the Rochester area’s four current female presidents about advice they might have for the new presidents and their thoughts on the wave of women in higher education. They are:

  • Kress, president of MCC since 2009;
  • Deana L. Porterfield, president of Roberts Wesleyan College since 2014;
  • Heidi Macpherson, president of SUNY Brockport since 2015;
  • and Denise Battles, president of SUNY Geneseo since 2015.

The first three were breakers of glass ceilings at their institutions. Battles is the second permanent female president at Geneseo. (A female interim president immediately preceded her.)

The three new presidents reporting to duty Monday are:

  • Sarah C. Mangelsdorf, who is coming to UR from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where she has been provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs.
  • Joyce P. Jacobsen, who has already introduced herself at Hobart and William Smith Colleges through podcast interviews, comes from Wesleyan University, where she served as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.
  • Angela D. Sims will lead Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School in its new location on North Goodman Street. She was dean and vice president of institutional advancement at Saint Paul School of Theology in Leawood, Kan., and Oklahoma City, Okla. Sims has the distinction of being the first African-American woman to head a local college, as noted by Rochester City Mayor Lovely Warren when Sims’ appointment was announced.
Incoming University of Rochester president Sarah C. Mangelsdorf is pictured during a visit to the River Campus December 17th, 2018. Mangelsdorf will assume duties at the University in July 2019. // photo by J. Adam Fenster / University of Rochester
Sarah C. Mangelsdorf

“The fact that these three campuses represent vastly different institutional types – a research university, theological institution and liberal arts college – is particularly noteworthy,” Battles said. “For example, national data show that women are far less likely to lead research universities than, say community colleges.”

Being on the leading edge of a national trend may not be the first thing Mangelsdorf, Jacobsen and Sims deal with Monday morning. Besides familiarizing themselves with the lay of the land, the location of the presidential restroom, and the names of their staff, all three will be in some uncharted territory; none have been presidents before. That’s not unusual for top academic administrators in the Rochester area, regardless of gender. Candidates for these jobs often have their first presidential-level job at colleges and universities here before either moving on or retiring.

Joyce P. Jacobsen
Joyce P. Jacobsen

Those who’ve gained experience on the job locally suggested the three be true to themselves.

“Be yourself; your authentic voice and vision of leadership was central to your selection as president,” Kress said.

“Lead from your strengths,” offered Porterfield.

Another common suggestion was to start off by learning the institution and its culture.

“It is important to value what was done before and also create new strategic pathways for the institution using your gifts and abilities,” Porterfield said.

Kress added, “Honor the past while preparing for the future: As you learn more about the history and culture of the extraordinary institution you lead, you will learn how your unique experiences will help it advance and thrive in the years ahead.”

Macpherson also stressed transparency.

“A successful presidency is about communications, transparency and clarity,” she said. “People don’t have to agree with all of your decisions, but if they understand why you’ve made them, they will accept them. It’s important to establish early on how you work with others, and how you want others to work with you.’

Macpherson also brought up the invisibility that women – even at the presidential level – sometimes experience.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff,” she said. “There will be times when you enter a room and people won’t realize you are the president. They may even address someone else standing next to you. How you handle those moments will be remembered.”

Kress, the most experienced female college president in the area, also suggested the newbies reach out to their colleagues. “The depth and diversity of leadership within the Rochester region is powerful, and your new community stands ready to support your success.”

According to a study by the American Council on Education, though the percentage of female presidents across the country is growing, the rate was slower between 2001 and 2016 than it was in the previous 14 years. And upon closer examination of the 2016 statistics, when 30.1 percent of colleges and universities had female presidents, the study found that women are more likely to be presidents at community colleges and limited-scope institutions than universities with greater resources, as Battles pointed out.

Private nonprofit colleges had a female presidential rate of 27.3 percent while public institutions were at almost 33 percent and community colleges hit 36 percent, according to the June 20 edition of Inside Higher Ed.   

The article also reported that public colleges and universities are about twice as likely to hire minority presidents as are private ones. Perhaps surprisingly, while many African American administrators are trained at historically black colleges and universities, the percentage of those institutions that have black presidents is declining.

But with seven out of 12 –  58.33 percent – colleges in Monroe County and its bordering counties now having women at the helm, Rochester is certainly ahead of the curve.

“It is extremely exciting to think that the Rochester area is leading the way across the country in female presidents of higher education institutions,” Porterfield said. “It is fitting that in the birthplace of women’s rights that we would be a model for women leaders.”

Several of the current presidents said the wave of female presidents can only inspire other women to do the same. “If she can see it, she can be it,” Macpherson said, echoing the motto of the Geena Davis Institution on Gender in Media. “I like to think that motto works for higher education, too.”

Women now in presidential seats owe a debt of gratitude to their female forebears, Kress said. “Their success in the face of great odds opened the door for us. We need to do the same.”

Macpherson said concerted efforts to mentor women, along with the American Council on Education’s “Moving the Needle” campaign, have helped move the percentages in the direction of parity, even though they haven’t reach the goal yet.  Moving the Needle has set a goal of parity by 2030.

“Women in positions of influence can and should help with this; we recognize the barriers that women might face (both internally and externally,) since we faced them ourselves. And we can purposefully offer women opportunities to demonstrate their ability to success,” Macpherson said.

Battles added demographic shifts are playing a role, too.

“Part of that increase is no doubt attributable to greater numbers of women in the higher education pipeline,” she said. “As more women enter academia, those qualified for the role of president also increases.”

Indeed, “women make up the majority of students pursuing undergraduate degrees in the U.S., and the same is true in our region. Yet, only about a third of college presidencies are held by women, so it is powerful and empowering that women studying in the Rochester area can look to the leadership of their college or university and see themselves,” Kress said. “In turn, the women leading these institutions will undoubtedly reflect back on the challenges they experienced in reaching these positions and work to remove them for the next generation of leaders.”

Last week, as outgoing UR President Richard Feldman bid farewell to many of his colleagues, he took pains to note that he has faith that Mangelsdorf will be a great president and said she was hired because she was the best candidate.

But two local female presidents said woman also bring unique gifts and challenges to the presidential suite, too.

“Research shows that women lead using different gifts and skills in building teams, creating vision and moving communities forward,” Porterfield said. They create “robust community engagement and communication,” she said.

And they disproportionately face family responsibilities that conflict with career progression, Battles noted.

“Data show that women presidents are twice as likely as men to have altered their career progression to care for others. Those life choices can influence a person’s desire or opportunities to pursue, assume or continue a presidency,” Battles said.

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Other women have served at area colleges

It should be noted that the MCC, Roberts, Brockport and Geneseo presidents are not the only female presidents who have served in the Rochester area. Nazareth College, founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph as a college for women, has had six female presidents, starting with Mother Sylvester Tindell in 1924.

Three of the last four presidents at Nazareth have been men and all of them came after that school went coeducational in 1971. President Daan Braveman plans to step down in 2020, so it’s possible Nazareth could return to female leadership then.

St. John Fisher, which started as a college for men, also went co-ed in the early 1970s and more than two decades later was led by Katherine Keough from 1996 until her death in 2006.

And Finger Lakes Community College was the first community college in the area to hire a female president: Barbara Risser, who served from 2007 to 2016.

The first woman to be president at Geneseo was Carol C. Harter, who served from 1989 to 1995, when she left to become president at University of Nevada, Los Vegas. There she became that institution’s longest-serving president.

Of 12 local schools, only Rochester Institute of Technology and Genesee Community College have never had a female president.

Diana Louise Carter

UR’s Feldman gives parting advice, but says he’ll stick around

Richard Feldman, president of the University of Rochester for nearly 18 months, gave this bit of parting advice Tuesday night:

Richard Feldman
Richard Feldman

“If you ever get invited to the Nobel Prize ceremony, go,” Feldman said. He was talking to an audience of 460 people gathered at the Memorial Art Gallery for the annual UR presidential garden party. Before the actual party part of the program, Feldman fielded questions from Sandy Parker, former president and CEO of the Rochester Business Alliance, and a few from the audience.

Feldman said attending the Nobel ceremony in Stockholm, where Donna Strickland shared in the physics prize for work she did as a doctoral student at UR’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics, was one of the highlights of his brief term.

He also learned a new appreciation for the depth and breadth of expertise at UR and its affiliated medical center, he said.

Feldman had come back from the brink of retirement after nearly 40 years at UR to become president following Joel L. Seligman’s resignation. Seligman was president for more than 12 years, leaving in the wake of heavy criticism over how the university handled sexual harassment complaints filed against a professor in the brain and cognitive sciences department.

During Feldman’s tenure, advances were made in diversity and inclusion with the creation and filling of a new position at the vice presidential level that focuses on that topic. Mercedes Ramírez Fernández, associate vice provost for strategic affairs and diversity at Virginia Tech, will start in the new job on July 1. “The goal of that is to make the university as welcoming a campus as it can be,” Feldman said.

Among his other highlights, Feldman noted the acquisition this month of the congressional papers for the late Louse M. Slaughter, who died in office in March 2018.

Feldman said he talks nearly weekly with his soon-to-be successor, Sarah Mangelsdorf, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She becomes president at UR July 1.

“She’s going to be a wonderful leader … she’s fully engaged,” Feldman said.

After July 1, Feldman said he hopes to spend more time with his wife, Andrea, and two grandsons, and plans to continue teaching and writing. He also suggested that if there is a way he can continue to play a role at the university, he’s interested in doing that.

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Binstock earns five-year renewal at Memorial Art Gallery

Jonathan Binstock has been appointed for a second five-year term as director of the University of Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery.

Jonathan Binstock
Jonathan Binstock

During his first five years as the Mary W. and Donald R. Clark director of the MAG, Binstock has expanded the museum’s permanent collection, its program of special exhibitions and public engagement and outreach efforts.

“His commitment to the museum as a community asset and his dedication to artistic innovation have expanded MAG’s collection and enhanced its work with the rest of the university,” said UR President Richard Feldman. “I’m confident that under his continued direction, MAG will explore new and exciting ways to build community and enrich lives through the direct experience of art.”

UR Vice Provost of Academic Affairs Joan Saab said Binstock’s “innovative programming and art acquisition projects have introduced new audiences to the museum and strengthened ties to the university, the broader Rochester community, and beyond.”

“It is an exciting time to be leading the Memorial Art Gallery,” Binstock said, “and I am having the time of my life. Our collections and programs are expanding, and we are connecting with more and a greater variety of people in the Rochester region and beyond.”

Under Binstock, the MAG has exercised new scholarship leading to exhibition catalogs for MAG-originated exhibitions such as Isaac Julien’s “Lessons of the Hour—Frederick Douglass” and Monet’s Waterloo Bridge: Vision and Process,” which is traveling to museums nationally. The museum has added paintings and sculptures by diverse artists such as George Condo, Beauford Delaney, Monir Farmanfarmaian, Hung Liu, Mickalene Thomas, and Grayson Perry.

The museum has also added programs to increase accessibility for city schoolchildren and millennials.

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UR names vice president for equity and inclusion

The University of Rochester has appointed its first vice president for equity and inclusion.

Mercedes Ramírez Fernández will join the staff July 1, coming from Virginia Tech, where she has been associate vice provost for strategic affairs and diversity. Her selection is the culmination of a national search that began last fall.

Mercedes Ramírez Fernández . Photo supplied by the University of Rochester
Mercedes Ramírez Fernández  (University of Rochester)

The position includes leading the university’s new Office of Equity and Inclusion and working with deans, other senior leaders and campus constituencies to establish and carry out a diversity strategic plan for the institution.

UR President Richard Feldman, who served as chair of the search committee, said, “I am confident Mercedes Ramírez Fernández is the right person to lead these efforts and our new central office dedicated to building meaningful progress in these areas.  I’m thrilled she has accepted the role and know that she’s ready to work with staff, faculty and students to cultivate and embrace a more inclusive, equitable, accessible and diverse university environment on many fronts.”

The new position has been endowed with donations and named the Richard Feldman Vice President for Equity and Inclusion, honoring the president who is stepping down next month.

UR’s incoming president, Sarah C. Mangelsdorf, also had input into Fernández’s selection.

“Mercedes and I were colleagues a number of years ago at the University of Illinois, and I am delighted that we will be colleagues again at the University of Rochester,” said Mangelsdorf. “I know she will bring passion, experience, and dedication to the important work of creating the new Office of Equity and Inclusion. I look forward to supporting her efforts in every way I can.”

Fernández earned a doctorate in higher education management from the University of Pennsylvania, a master’s degree in counseling from the University of Iowa, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez.

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UR’s first female Nobel laureate speaks at Sunday’s commencement

The main graduation ceremony for the University of Rochester takes place Sunday morning with the first female Nobel laureate from UR giving the commencement address.

Donna Strickland , Nobel laureate (Photo by Peter Lee, Waterloo Region Record)
Donna Strickland, Nobel laureate (Photo by Peter Lee, Waterloo Region Record)

Exercises for the colleges of arts, sciences and engineering begin at 9 a.m. on the grassy quad before the Rush Rhees Library overlooking the Genesee River. A crowd of more than 6,000, including 1,200 graduates, is expected at the ceremonies where physicist Donna Strickland will present the commencement address.

Strickland, who now teaches at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, shared the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics for work she did while a doctorate candidate at the University of Rochester. The university will also present Strickland with the George Eastman Medal, recognizing outstanding achievement and dedicated service.

Other speakers at the ceremony include UR President Richard Feldman, board of trustees Chairman Rich Handler, and a member of the class of 2019.

Academic department ceremonies will continue later in the day.

The UR schools of medicine, dentistry and nursing are holding ceremonies on Friday. A ceremony for students earning doctorate degrees will be Saturday. The Eastman School of Music’s exercises are scheduled for later Sunday morning.

Additional information on all the graduation exercises at UR, including links for watching them on live stream, is available on its website.

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Eastman professorship will honor the late Paul Burgett at University of Rochester

Two anonymous alumni of the University of Rochester have provided a gift to the Eastman School of Music that will create an endowed professorship honoring the late Paul Burgett.

Burgett, who died in 2018 at age 72 after a brief illness, held numerous titles at Eastman and the larger university, including dean of students and assistant to the president. Among his more informal roles at UR over his 54 years as a student (he held three Eastman degrees) and faculty member was that of chief storyteller, providing narratives that both welcomed incoming students and celebrated the university’s history and culture.

“Paul was a larger than life figure with a gregarious and outgoing personality who simultaneously was among the most thoughtful and sensitive individuals,” said Jamal Rossi, dean of the Eastman School. “This professorship assures that his presence and legacy will be recognized at Eastman forever.”

The late Paul J. Burgett
The late Paul J. Burgett

“Paul Burgett changed people’s lives,” said UR President Richard Feldman. “He did that through his energy and enthusiasm, his love for education and the University, and his deeply compassionate nature. His genuine, heartfelt, and gracious interest in the success of our students, faculty, staff members, and administrators drove every decision he made.

“Paul would be honored and humbled by this gift, and the generosity that made it possible,” Feldman said.

The donors said in a prepared statement, “Music and education have powerful abilities to unite, connect, and inspire us all. Paul had those gifts, too, and he exemplified why the University of Rochester and Eastman are so incredible together.”

The Paul J. Burgett Distinguished Professorship at the Eastman School of Music, is the first such position at Eastman. The size of the gift creating the professorship was not disclosed.

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Slaughter’s papers will be kept at University of Rochester

Louise M. Slaughter’s congressional papers are being donated to the University of Rochester.

The late congresswoman, who died in 2018 while still in Congress, represented the Rochester area for 31 years and 16 terms. The university announced the donation from Louise and Bob Slaughter’s family Wednesday morning.

The late Louise M. Slaughter. Photo supplied by University of Rochester.
The late Louise M. Slaughter (University of Rochester)

“Serving as a member of the United States House of Representatives was the highest privilege and honor of our mother’s life, and we are delighted that the University of Rochester will be the steward for the official records, documents and memorabilia associated with her entire congressional career,” said Robin Slaughter Minerva on behalf of the family. “The results of her leadership will long remain evident in Rochester, and viewing the breadth of this collection will give students, faculty and the public a sense of the enormous scope of our mother’s accomplishments.” She added the hope that future leaders would be inspired by Slaughter’s legacy.

The papers will be housed in the River Campus Libraries’ Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation.

UR President Richard Feldman said Slaughter’s “legacy in Congress, throughout the state, in Rochester, and across this university was profound and will never be forgotten—it is a distinctive honor for the university to curate and steward her collection. I want to thank the Slaughter family for entrusting us with this wonderful opportunity.”

The collection includes legislative research, proposed and passed bills, speeches, awards and visual media.

“There’s incredible scholarship potential here,” said Mary Ann Mavrinac, university vice provost and Andrew H. and Janet Dayton Neilly Dean of University of Rochester Libraries. “Students, faculty, community members, authors, artists, visiting scholars and others across far-ranging areas such as education, political science, public health, and women in government and leadership can draw from her papers to inform their work.”

“Congresswoman Slaughter’s papers will offer nearly endless opportunities for research, teaching, collaboration, community engagement, and service learning,” added Jessica Lacher-Feldman, assistant dean and Joseph N. Lambert and Harold B. Schleifer Director of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation. She said the university will now hire a project archivist to prepare the collection.

The university also expects to create a searchable online guide to the collection to promote use of the collection, a digital exhibition and collection, and a physical exhibition and programming highlighting Slaughter’s contributions.

Slaughter, the only microbiologist in Congress during her tenure, was a major supporter of higher education institutions in her district. Acknowledging that support, UR awarded Slaughter its Presidential Proclamation in 2014 and its Eastman Medal in 2009, the same year she gave the undergraduate commencement address.

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UR names Wisconsin provost to be university’s first female president

The University of Rochester has named a Wisconsin provost and the first woman in its history as president.

Sarah C. Mangelsdorf, provost of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a psychology professor, will begin work in Rochester in the summer of 2019. She succeeds Richard Feldman, who has been acting president of the institution since Joel Seligman resigned in January. 

Mangelsdorf, a native of Pennsylvania, is a third-generation professor and internationally known for her research on the social and emotional development of infants and young children.

Incoming University of Rochester president Sarah C. Mangelsdorf. photo by J. Adam Fenster / University of Rochester
Incoming University of Rochester president Sarah C. Mangelsdorf. (Photo by J. Adam Fenster / University of Rochester)

Richard Handler, chairman of the UR board of trustees, said Mangelsdorf “is super smart, an empowering, compassionate, and kind leader, is expert at managing complexity and overcoming challenges, and will work tirelessly in tandem with our students, faculty, staff, and trustees to make the University of Rochester the best it can be. When people meet her, there will be no doubt why she was the unanimous choice of every constituency on the search committee as well as the entire board of trustees.”

University officials said they chose Mangelsdorf from among 200 people who they were in contact with about the job.

 “Sarah has a breadth and depth of experience that equips her well to be successful as the University of Rochester’s president,” said UR trustee Cathy Minehan, who co-chaired the search committee with trustee Danny Wegman. “Throughout her career, colleagues have praised her as a collaborative trust-builder who works hard to understand how to help every part of her institutions succeed. She immediately stood out to the search committee as an exceptional candidate for our next president.”

Mangelsdorf’s responsibilities at Wisconsin include oversight of  academic programs and budget planning for 12 schools and colleges, including those related to the UW health system.  

Her previous appointments include serving as dean at Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University and teaching at the University of Michigan and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she also served as dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

UR trustee and search committee member Tom Richards, who is also chairman of the board of the University of Rochester Medical Center, said Mangelsdorf’s experience lines up well with the job in Rochester.

“Sarah Mangelsdorf is an accomplished researcher in areas of psychology that are a shared interest with work at URMC,” he said. “As provost at the University of Wisconsin she has responsibility for the Schools of Medicine and Public Health, Nursing, and Pharmacy and a close relationship with the Wisconsin Medical Center, an academic medical center and community health system similar in many ways to UR Medicine. She understands what we do and our challenges.”

Mangelsdorf earned a bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College in 1980 and her doctorate in child psychology from the University of Minnesota in 1988.

She is married to Karl Rosengren, a developmental psychologist who is also a professor of psychology at Wisconsin, and they have two children, Julia Rosengren and Emily Rosengren, and a son-in-law, Richard Lee.

“I’m immensely excited to be joining the University of Rochester, and I am looking forward to working with our outstanding faculty, students, staff, and alumni and with the members of the greater Rochester community,” Mangelsdorf said. “Rochester has a distinguished record of innovation and influence, and I am honored that the university’s trustees have put their faith in me. I am grateful to my predecessors, most recently Richard Feldman, who have established a strong foundation for Rochester’s future success, and I’m committed to moving the institution even further in its mission to make the world ‘ever better,’” she said, referencing UR’s Latin motto, meliora.

During comments made in an introduction to the campus Monday morning, Mangelsdorf said she is working on her pronunciation of the Latin version of the university’s motto, meliora.

She reflected on her earliest memories as a third-generation academic, which included seeing her father ride his bicycle in full regalia to a university commencement, and coming to understand the meaning of tenure and salary as different from “ten-year” and “celery.”

Mangelsdorf also said it will be her mission to help UR receive more recognition for its contributions, noting that last week’s Nobel Prize for Physics going to a Rochester alum will help. 

“It’s time UR takes credit for all of its excellence,” Mangelsdorf said.

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Wall Street CEO steps up to chair UR Board of Trustees

Wall Street CEO Richard B. Handler has been elected chairman of the University of Rochester’s Board of Trustees.

Handler, who earned his undergraduate degree at UR in 1983, succeeds Danny Wegman, who has been a trustee for 20 years and chairman since 2016. Wegman will remain an active member of the board.

Richard B. Handler, new chairman of the UR Board of Trustees. Photo courtesy of Bloomberg News
Richard B. Handler, new chairman of the UR Board of Trustees. Photo courtesy of Bloomberg News

The changes were ratified at trustees’ meeting last week.

Handler, who joined the board in 2005, recently chaired its Special Committee, which oversaw an independent investigation of sexual harassment at UR. He also is on investment and advancement committees on the board.

Handler is also known as the most senior CEO on Wall Street, heading Jefferies Financial Group, which he joined in 1990. Since then the company has grown from a small trader to a large, independent, global investment and merchant bank.

“I’m humbled by the honor my fellow trustees have bestowed on me,” Handler said in a statement. “I’m proud University of Rochester alum, and I credit the university with providing me the foundation, perspective, education and skills that have served me well throughout my life and career. Those who know me know that some of my most important priorities in life are equality, empowerment, diversity, and fairness, qualities that the board and members of the university community also embrace.”

Handler also earned some recognition several years ago when he circulated a memo to senior staff encouraging a supportive environment for junior staff and describing a “no jerks” policy at Jefferies.

Handler and his wife, Martha, established a $25 million scholarship at UR for students with exceptional academic and leadership potential as well as high financial need. The full scholarship goes to 1 percent of the class, this year comprising 14 freshmen. Since the scholarship was established in 2007, 76 Handler Scholars have enrolled or graduated.

“Rich has demonstrated his commitment to the university and the board in very meaningful ways since first being elected in 2005,” said UR President Richard Feldman. “He is both a key adviser to the university and a dedicated alumnus who helped The Meliora Challenge surpass its ambitious fundraising goal.  He freely gives of his time to speak with students while on campus, and he’s committed to seeing that talented students of limited financial means can attend and graduate from the university. I very much look forward to continuing to work with Rich on advancing key strategic initiatives in anticipation of a new university president next summer.”

The new board chair graduated magna cum laude with high distinction when he received his economics degree from UR. He earned an MBA from Stanford University in 1987. He and his wife have four children and live in New York.

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UR’s ‘beloved’ Paul Burgett dies at 72

Paul J. Burgett, a music scholar, vice president and dean at the University of Rochester, as well as a warm and welcoming presence at the university for more than 50 years, has died.

A UR statement issued late Thursday afternoon said Burgett died following a brief illness. He was 72.

He is survived by his spouse, Catherine “Kay” Valentine, an emeritus sociology professor at Nazareth College, and by other family.

“No person in the worldwide University of Rochester community is more beloved than Paul Burgett. No brief statement—actually, not even a lengthy obituary—could capture the full extent of Paul’s profound contributions to this university,” said UR President Richard Feldman in an email sent to the university community.

Paul J. Burgett
Paul J. Burgett

Born in St. Louis in 1946 to two musicians—his father sang and his mother taught piano—Burgett was the eldest of six children. He learned to play the piano at age 5 from his mother and the violin at age 9. He came to Rochester as a freshman violinist at the Eastman School of Music, from which he graduated in 1968.  As a dean at the university years later, he would welcome new Eastman students in an orientation speech about how he arrived full of himself until he realized the depth of musical talent that surrounded him.

But at Eastman, the bi-racial Burgett would later tell people, he was accepted for who he was rather than the color of his skin.

In a profile from Rochester Review magazine, author Kathleen McGarvey wrote:

“‘In the environment of Eastman, I took enormous comfort. I didn’t have to look over my shoulder all the time.’ He was elected president of the freshman class, and ‘that stunned me. Qualities of my makeup were unleashed because my classmates accepted me. I can’t even begin to explain how important that was.'”

Burgett would later earn a master’s degree in musical education and a Ph.D. in education.  Before coming to work at Eastman as dean, he was executive director of the Hochstein School of Music, a music teacher in the Greece Central School District, and a music professor at Nazareth. Burgett was dean at Eastman for seven years and moved to the River Campus 30 years ago. Upon his death, his titles included vice president, senior advisor to the president, and university dean.  But he played many roles on and off campus.

“Paul energized the University community with his presence and strengthened the institution through his wisdom, knowledge and service,” read a statement the university released with news of Burgett’s death. “He had an enduring impact on generations of students, many of whom often looked to him for guidance on navigating life in college and beyond. He connected the University to the broader Rochester community in innumerable ways, including his involvement with the Fringe Festival and with the Gateways Music Festival, which brings classical musicians of African descent to Rochester.”

Burgett was chairman of the board of the Gateways festival. Among his recent civic and cultural roles were serving on the board of trustees of the George Eastman Museum and on the board of the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College, Chicago. His past positions were numerous.

A private funeral service and a celebration of his life will be scheduled at a later date, UR said. In Burgett’s honor, the university will lower its flags on Friday to half-staff.

The university has set up a website  for people who want to learn more about Burgett or leave a tribute to him.

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Report: UR’s economic impact continues to grow

Lattimore Hall on the University of Rochester's River Campus. (Photo by Brandon Vick, University Communications)
Lattimore Hall on the University of Rochester’s River Campus. (Photo by Brandon Vick, University Communications)

The figures describing the University of Rochester can seem staggering.

  • $1.2 billion in annual payroll for 30,800 employees.
  • $3.2 billion total pumped into the economy in the form of that payroll plus the wages of people whose jobs depend on UR business or the spending of its employees in one year.
  • $327.9 million in capital investment in 2017 alone.
  • The largest private employer in all of Upstate New York, and the fifth largest for the entire state.
  • $342 million in research grants in 2017.

In one very large nutshell, those figures spell out the economic impact of the University of Rochester, documented in a biennial economic report compiled by the Center for Governmental Research and released this week.

Besides many impressive numbers, the report describes a community enriched by a thriving research university with a regional medical center.  It describes a medical system that has grown organically and through acquisitions, reaching into the Southern Tier. It draws a picture of an active research community, including the federally funded Laboratory for Laser Energetics that attracts scientists from around the world to visit, study and, yes, spend money.

UR has grown so much, in fact, that some of that growth was either left out of the report (acquisition of St. James Hospital in Hornell, for instance, because it occurred in 2018) or averaged out to avoid overstating its impact. The report’s authors chose to average capital investments over five years rather than taking the banner year of 2017 at face value because it was so much higher than previous years.

The University of Rochester's Memorial Art Gallery. (Photo by Brandon Vick, University Communications)
The University of Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery. (Photo by Brandon Vick, University Communications)

The numbers may come as a surprise for Rochester residents used to having UR as a backdrop for life in the Flower City.

“Sometimes we overlook the most significant economic development engines in our own backyard,” said Anne M. Kress, president of Monroe Community College and co-chair of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council.  The report really shows that higher education and medicine are the region’s key economic drivers, she noted.

UR President Richard Feldman said he was surprised to see the amount of student spending, which CGR estimated at more than $99 million last year.  “That was just a bigger number than I realized,” Feldman said. It might not come as a surprise to anyone who happens to be in the Henrietta Target store, however, the week that freshmen and foreign students arrive for the fall semester.

In some instances, though, Feldman noted that UR’s greatest impact is in the dollars it draws from elsewhere. Those dollars can come in the form of major federal grants, or of medical insurance payments from the out-of-staters who come to Rochester for a heart or liver transplant or cancer treatments.

Peter G. Robinson, vice president and chief operating officer of the University of Rochester Medical Center, added, “If you look at Upstate New York and the other cities, I think the University of Rochester stands uniquely as a major draw and mecca for health care.” While Buffalo’s Roswell Center for cancer also has a far-reaching reputation, Robinson noted that UR’s Golisano Center is substantially larger.

If URMC were to go away tomorrow, the report noted, people would still go to other local hospitals to have babies or fix broken limbs. But the influx of economic activity around UR’s medical specialties such as liver transplants, autism research and others would also go away.

Dollars don’t just flow into the community for UR’s medical services, as this week’s jazz events surrounding UR’s Eastman School of Music will attest.

“To have this level of medical care is extraordinary,” Kress said, but overall quality of life is elevated because of UR. “Memorial Art Gallery or Eastman—the level of cultural life that’s here is magnified exponentially because of the University of Rochester,” she said.

Having the university here simply makes Rochester a more attractive community, several observers said.

“The university’s economic impact is also in our people and what they bring, qualitatively as well as quantitatively,” Robinson said. “We are attracting to the community some of the best and the brightest in the country.”

University of Rochester Eastman School of Music's Eastman Theatre is pictured during Meliora Weekend October 9, 2015. (photo by J. Adam Fenster, University of Rochester)
University of Rochester Eastman School of Music’s Eastman Theatre is pictured during Meliora Weekend October 9, 2015. (photo by J. Adam Fenster, University of Rochester)

Some of UR’s economic impact is quite purposeful, from its building of student housing in Rochester’ 19th Ward, across the Genesee River from the River Campus; to its relocation of a business incubator, NextCorps, to downtown; to the expansion of its geographic footprint with medical services and hospital systems.

Of the last, Feldman said, “That enables us to serve the population effectively.” A patient entering one of UR’s affiliated hospitals can receive all the services available in Rochester, but less expensively than if each hospital had to try to mount those services on its own.

Robinson said the UR health system has done some rebranding so patients understand where their medical services come from.

“The Finger Lakes region is our home. You’re going to see us all over the Finger Lakes,” Robinson said.

The report begs the question of whether UR can sustain the growth it has seen over the last decade. Through both acquisition and organic growth, it added 9,000 jobs over the last five years.

CGR Data Analyst Michael Silva, who wrote the report, said, “We saw the UR grow, but it was shocking how much they grew.  Nine thousand jobs—that’s a lot of jobs to add to the area.”

Feldman said the growth is likely to continue, but it’s unclear for how long. Robinson predicted that UR will have another year for building that tops 2017 in the next five years, even as capital investments are more subject to fluctuation than other trends.

“They will continue to be the No. 1 factor in our economy,” said Vincent Esposito, regional director of Empire State Development. But even so, he said the local economy needs both to diversify beyond “traditional ‘eds and meds’” and to better leverage the technology and expertise UR has to develop other sectors of the economy such as data science and photonics and imaging.

You won’t get any argument on that from UR.

“We know that we have an impact on the region,” said Feldman. “It’s in our mutual interest for the region to thrive as well as for us to thrive.”

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UR picks veteran dean as interim president

The University  of Rochester’s Board of Trustees has selected a retired dean and longtime philosophy professor, Richard Feldman, as interim president to replace Joel Seligman when he steps down at the end of February.

Feldman, who has worked at UR since 1975 and was taking a sabbatical, had intended to return to teaching once his sabbatical was over, according to a statement announcing the selection by trustee chairman Danny Wegman. He was dean of the college from 2006 to 2017.

Richard Feldman, professor of philosophy and dean of the College at the University of Rochester June 09, 2011. //photo: J. Adam Fenster/University of Rochester
Richard Feldman, professor of philosophy and dean of the College at the University of Rochester June 09, 2011. //photo: J. Adam Fenster/University of Rochester

“As a scholar, an award-winning teacher, and a supremely capable and compassionate administrator, Rich Feldman is respected and admired by students, faculty, and staff alike. The University could not ask for a better leader for this next chapter in the institution’s history,” Wegman said in his written statement.

Seligman announced his resignation Thursday, within two hours of the release of an independent investigation into UR’s handling of sexual abuse complaints against Prof. T. Florian Jaeger. The university had found no evidence to support sanctions against Jaeger and promoted him while its own investigation was underway. Eight former and current students and faculty have filed a federal lawsuit against the school.

Wegman said, “Even before he formally steps into the presidency on March 1, the board and I have asked Rich to immediately take responsibility for leading the effort to respond to the independent investigation report, and to make it his top priority to work with members of the University community and the Board to develop a plan to act on the report’s recommendations.”

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