U. of C. seeks to raise funds ahead of major projects

U. of C. President Robert Zimmer
U. of C. President Robert Zimmer

Staff Writer

The University of Chicago formally launched the largest fundraising campaign in its history last week.

The U. of C. plans to raise $4.5 billion before the end of the decade. President Robert Zimmer will stay on through 2019, the university said in a press release.

The U. of C. has in recent years taken moves that led to Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Investors Services revising their outlooks on the school’s bond and debt ratings from stable to negative.

Both agencies cited the university’s decline in revenue during its 2013 fiscal year and its plans to take on hundreds of millions of dollars in debt beginning in 2015 as reasons for the revisions.

Fitch Ratings, the third of the big credit rating agencies, did not revise its outlook on the U. of C. but it did call the university’s debt burden “slightly high.”

The university is lobbying to be the location for the Barack Obama Presidential Library, a prestigious project that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to construct.

The quiet phase of the fundraising campaign has already raised $2 billion from 182,000 donors. Some of the money will be used for the Institute for Molecular Engineering; the Marine Biological Laboratory, in Woods Hole, Mass.; biological sciences at the University of Chicago Medicine; enhancing the college’s core curriculum; expanding study abroad opportunities and career advancement. It will also be used to retain and recruit professors.

The money will also help build the Jeanne Gang-designed 800 bed residence hall that will be constructed where Pierce Hall previously stood. It will also go to pay for student scholarships.

Part of the money will also be used to fund additional changes in Hyde Park, including funding the Chicago Innovation Exchange, a tech and business incubator in the new Harper Court tower and existing buildings on 53rd Street.

The campaign will officially launch in October.

The university’s last major fundraising campaign ended in 2008 when it raised $2.38 billion. In 2013, the university raised 48 percent more from donors and alumni than it did in 2012. Its largest fundraising year to date was 2009, including a $300 million donation from David G. Booth. The school renamed the Chicago Graduate School of Business in his honor.

Andrew M. Alper, chair of the board of trustees, said that $750 million of the money already raised came from trustees, trustee emeriti and their families.

The campaign, named “University of Chicago Campaign: Inquiry and Impact” will be led by Joseph Neubauer, vice chair of the board of trustees.

Neubauer and his wife, Jeanette Lerman-Neubauer, gave the university $26.5 million in 2012. The money went to create the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society.

Its 2012 annual report noted that the university had $6.57 billion in its endowment, including $870 million for the medical center. In 2011, Zimmer was paid $3.4 million, making him the highest-paid private university president in America.