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UB Establishes Institute for Jewish Thought, Heritage and Culture

Gift from Gordon and Gretchen Gross supports endowed professorship

Release Date: April 16, 2008

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A gift from local attorney and UB alum Gordon Gross and his wife, Gretchen, will be used for an endowed professorship in the Institute for Jewish Thought, Heritage and Culture.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo has established the Institute for Jewish Thought, Heritage and Culture, a multidisciplinary research and academic degree-granting center that will focus scholarship on the critical role that Judaism has played in the development and communication of Western thought.

The institute already is attracting major philanthropic support with a $1 million gift from prominent Buffalo attorney Gordon R. Gross, LL.B. '55, and his wife, Gretchen, to establish the institute's first endowed professorship.

Creation of the institute and the gift from the Grosses were announced today by UB President John B. Simpson at a news conference in Capen Hall on the UB North (Amherst) Campus.

The institute has been created in UB's College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) in conjunction with the strategic strength in cultures and texts identified as part of the UB 2020 strategic plan. That plan is designed to transform UB into a model 21st-century public university that will rise among the ranks of the nation's public research universities.

The institute will establish UB as a leader in Jewish studies; the university will be the first campus within SUNY to establish master's and doctoral degree programs in the field.

"The interdisciplinary mission of the institute, a center of excellence that is aligned closely with our strategic strength in cultures and texts, is very much in harmony with UB's guiding vision as a public research university -- to foster knowledge, inquiry and scholarly excellence with a meaningful impact on the world around us," Simpson said.

Praising the Grosses for their generosity and foresight, Simpson added: "Gretchen and Gordon Gross have long supported programs that increase cultural diversity and understanding, and we are grateful for their generosity in supporting this new academic position."

Gordon Gross, a member of the SUNY Board of Trustees, noted that "tzedakah, or righteous charity, is a fundamental tenet of Judaism that teaches us to share our gifts with others."

Noting that he and his wife are "passionate about the Institute for Jewish Thought, Heritage and Culture," he added: "We believe it will invigorate the Jewish community in Western New York, as well as allow UB to create a world-renowned Jewish studies program.

"The institute will support UB's plan for growth by attracting top students and scholars, and will benefit the local community by sparking intellectual discussion and providing access to notable speakers and visiting lecturers."

SUNY Distinguished Professor Bruce D. McCombe, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said the institute "will be a world-class endeavor marked by a strong emphasis on scholarship and research, particularly at the graduate level, with a director who is a scholar of the first rank, a dedicated faculty and a highly focused identity and coherence." He noted that a national search has been completed and that the announcement of the institute's director is expected soon.

McCombe said the institute is expected to become a degree-granting program by fall 2009 with the offering of an independent bachelor's degree in Jewish studies and expects, at the same time, to offer an advanced certificate program for graduate students in history, philosophy, classics and English, as well as other departments.

He said it's anticipated that by fall 2010, it will have five dedicated faculty members and a range of graduate offerings, including both master's degree and doctoral degrees.

McCombe described the leadership gift from the Grosses as "a generous gift providing tangible evidence of support of this important mission and an absolutely crucial step in launching the institute." To underscore the importance of the institute and its mission, the university will match the Gross professorship and a second endowed professorship with two additional faculty lines.

McCombe praised a group of local supporters, including Gordon Gross, who have worked closely with UB on creation of the institute. Other members of the steering committee are Michael E. Cohen, M.D.; Peter and Ilene Fleischmann; Michael Anbar, M.D., UB professor emeritus of physiology and biophysics; and Kenneth Dauber, Ph.D., UB professor of English. Peter Fleischmann is director and CEO of The Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies. Ilene Fleischmann is vice dean in the UB Law School and executive director of the UB Law Alumni Association.

Cohen, professor of neurology and pediatrics in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, noted the long history of interest in Judaic studies at UB and the insistence by all involved that the leadership, scholarship and programming of the institute be of the highest quality.

"I am delighted that we have come this far," Cohen added. "Gordy Gross has been very influential in moving things along and the Jewish community has watched these efforts with a great deal of interest and considerable enthusiasm. I hope that this is the beginning of a major community philanthropic effort to support and develop the institute."

Cohen also noted the contributions of UB faculty members including Samuel Paley, professor of classics, and the late Selig Adler, Samuel P. Capen Professor of History, in keeping the hope for this program alive over several decades.

McCombe explained that interdisciplinary courses will be cross-listed with departments in the College of Arts and Sciences and other academic units across campus, addressing issues as diverse as literature, law, philosophy, the arts, government, history, ethics, medicine and economics. The institute's researchers, faculty and academic programs will address the role of Jewish heritage, culture and thought as it relates to current issues in the academic world.

Its programs will be integrated into the UB curriculum, giving it a high academic profile, and will focus on excellence in scholarship and research with the goal of becoming one of the leading hubs of scholarly activity in these areas.

McCombe said graduate courses will follow the research interests of the institute's faculty, but will include such subjects as Jewish ethics, Jewish law, textural criticism, literature, history, sociology and philosophy.

"Because its programs will be cross-disciplinary in nature," he said, "they will draw on the expertise of a wide variety of disciplines and will encourage our faculty members in appropriate departments to offer classes with Jewish content."

McCombe noted the existence at UB of the David Blitzer Memorial Lecture Fund (endowed by Wolf Blitzer) and the Michael and Ada Anbar Lecture Series in Jewish History. McCombe said the institute will sponsor additional lectures to produce a series that will bring additional internationally known scholars to the region during the academic year.

The institute will establish and maintain an online journal and will encourage publication of papers in recognized journals in this field.

"Through subventions and awards," McCombe said, "it also will facilitate the publication of monographs and the proceedings of symposia, which will help establish the institute as a leading source of pioneering work."

By fall 2008, the institute will initiate community-wide education programs and actively support established cultural activities in the community and at UB. The community education program will encourage non-matriculated and senior/retiree auditors from the community to participate in institute classes at no cost. McCombe said he expects the knowledge and unique perspectives of lifelong learners to bring additional dimensions to the educational experience of matriculated students.

Special Collections in the University Libraries has been selected to house the Jewish Archives of Greater Buffalo containing synagogue records, local community records, and the personal papers of notable leaders of the Buffalo Jewish community. This material is being collected and organized by the Jewish Buffalo Archives Project, a collaborative effort of the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Buffalo and the University Libraries.

Already in the UB Libraries are several collections presented by the bureau in 2006, including the records and archives used by Selig Adler, professor of history at UB, and UB professor of English Thomas E. Connolly when writing "From Ararat to Suburbia" (1960), a comprehensive history of the Buffalo Jewish Community, and the papers of Buffalo Rabbi Isaac Klein, former president (1958-60) of the Rabbinical Assembly, the official international body of conservative rabbis.

The UB Libraries also house several Jewish books collections of note; among them is the 1,800 item Holocaust collection assembled by Jane Vogel Fischman, Ph.D. '96, and Stuart L. Fischman, D.M.D., UB professor emeritus of oral diagnostic sciences. The Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Buffalo has also given the UB Libraries books and other material from the Fred Sales Music Library and the Milton Plesur Memorial Community Library.

"Because of its comprehensive curriculum and the other resources at our disposal," McCombe said, "we expect the institute to become a regional center for Jewish studies and research."

Gordon Gross attended Oberlin College and the University of Buffalo and received an LL.B. from the UB Law School in 1955. He has been a senior partner of the law firm of Gross, Shuman, Brizdle & Gilfillan, P.C. in Buffalo since 1959, and served in the U.S. Army from 1955 to 57, primarily with the Army Judge Advocate General's Corps, but also with the Air Force JAG Corps in Alaska.

Active in the community, he is a member of the SUNY Board of Trustees, chairman of the Park School of Buffalo Foundation, chairman of the Foundation for Deaf Education, and serves on the boards of the Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies, Jewish Center of Greater Buffalo and the Jewish Federation of Greater Buffalo, each of which he has served as president. He is also a former director of Roswell Park Cancer Institute Corporation, past chairman of the board of directors of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, Inc., and has served as officer and trustee of the Buffalo Philharmonic Society.

He and Gretchen, an early childhood educator who founded the Audubon in College Park child care center, reside in Amherst.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system that is its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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