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February 11, 2002

Conference ties philanthropy to research universities

By Michael Terrazas


Among the many American institutions to arise out of the 20th century, two of the most influential were the private, philanthropic foundation and the research university. That they should emerge almost simultaneously and out of the same culture is no coincidence, and the relationship between the two will be the focus of a two-day seminar, “Philanthropy and the Research University,” to be held at Emory April 15–16.

Sponsored by the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and the Office of the Provost, the conference will examine the history of this mutually beneficial connection. Sessions also will ask such questions as who profits from university research, and what the future may hold for parternerships between philanthropy and academia.

“Like our peer institutions, Emory would not have a graduate school without a huge infusion of philanthropic support,” said Gary Wihl, interim dean of the graduate school. “This is a major strategic consideration for faculty and administrators; we’re not inventing this topic. This conference taps into a body of research and planning that is already out there.”

Wihl said the idea for the conference came to him through the work of Olivier Zunz, Commonwealth Professor of History at the University of Virginia and one of the scheduled speakers for the conference. In his book Why the American Century?, Zunz pointed out that the advent of industrial science in the 19th century created new applications for the higher knowledge American business had long considered irrelevant.

“Until then,” Zunz wrote, “scientists had been primarily searching for the laws of nature; tinkerers and industry for new products and markets. The division of labor became irrelevant when finding new markets became increasingly dependent on understanding the laws of nature.”

Thus, the major foundations arose and began providing unheard-of support to academia, a practice that has mushroomed as the American economy dominated the 20th century.

“Now we have $1 trillion in the nonprofit sector of the economy—$450 billion with foundations—hundreds of foundations, and they still play a critical role,” Wihl said. “But philanthropic funds today do not have the sweeping impact on graduate education that the earliest foundations had; it’s more specialized now. I’m hoping this conference will make some facts and issues transparent to people.”

Also speaking at the conference will be Harold Shapiro, former president of Princeton University and chair of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation board of trustees; Catharine Stimpson, dean of the graduate school of New York University and former director of the MacArthur Foundation; and Robert Weisbuch, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, among others. For full details, visit the graduate school website at

Space for the conference is limited to 200 participants to promote discussion and continuity, Wihl said. Emory faculty and/or staff will have the $250 registration fee waived. For more information or to reserve a place, e-mail Aimee Pozorski at