Train an Eye on the Lessons of This Campus Gift

We've written about the ways in which campus giving sometimes happens in an escalating fashion. Donors, happy with the way their money is being spent, double down, refinining and deepening earlier efforts.

Consider the Lannan Foundation and Georgetown alumnus J. Patrick Lannan, who's strongly focused on supporting creatives in his philanthropy. A poetry series created at Georgetown in the late 1980s, is now the full-blown Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice, on the heels of committed, long-term giving.

RelatedBehind a Poetry Gift: Alumni Loyalty Still Matters, Even When a Funder Is Into a Lot

Sure, full-fledged centers can be created from this kind of heightened giving. But this kind of philanthropy can also support the work of professors and researchers through the years, and also help attract more stars.

Let's take a case at University of Kansas where in 2001, alumnus Luther Fry and his wife Ardis gave $1 million to establish the Luther L. and Ardis Fry Professorship in Ophthalmology at KU. 

The Frys both grew up in Kansas. Luther received a bachelor’s degree from KU in mathematics in 1963 and a medical degree from KU School of Medicine in 1967. Luther completed his residency in ophthalmology at Kresge Eye Institute in Detroit and settled in Western Kansas to work. Today, Fry Eye Associates includes a part-time optometrist and three full-time ophthalmologists, including the couple's son Eric, who's also a KU School of Medicine graduate. 

Now comes recent news that Luther and Ardis have given another $1 million to elevate the endowed professorship they created last decade to an endowed chair in ophthalmology. As Luther puts it, “The training I got at KU and the Department of Ophthalmology allowed me to do very well in my own practice, and we want to give a little of that back."

Dr. John Sutphin is an important figure in this story, and someone who fulfilled Fry's goal of hiring top-notch professors. Sutphin, current ophthalmology department chair, will take on the endowed chair position. As Luther explains, "elevating the professorship to an endowed chair will hopefully encourage Dr. Sutphin to stay, and when he does retire it will be helpful in recruiting someone as good as he is for the next chair.” Luther also noted that exceptional faculty can also help attract exceptional students.

Funny how there's a ring to all of this.

It's worth emphasizing how University of Kansas positioned themselves to receive more support from the Frys by hiring the right faculty. As well, even though Luther graduated from KU years ago, his son left KU School of Medicine last decade—yet another force that helped keep KU on the family's orbit.