April 29, 2016

Caltech Funds Full Complement of Eight Leadership Chairs

Caltech’s eight top academic leaders—the president, provost, and all six division chairs—now hold leadership chairs endowed by donors who believe in Caltech’s ability to change the world. The establishment of the Ronald and Maxine Linde Leadership Chair in the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) in April 2016 completed the set.

“This unprecedented suite of leadership chairs makes a powerful statement about Caltech values,” says President Thomas F. Rosenbaum, holder of the Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair and professor of physics. “It challenges our faculty and students to push the boundaries of knowledge and create new fields of inquiry. The visionary philanthropists who created these chairs are some of Caltech’s most knowledgeable and dedicated friends. We deeply appreciate the confidence that their generous gifts demonstrate.”

Each leadership chair has a correlated multimillion-dollar endowment. That fund is managed so that its principal lasts while its interest provides successive generations of Caltech leaders with a rare advantage: a reliable source of discretionary money. The total endowment for the eight chairs, including funds from the Gordon and Betty Moore Matching Program, exceeds $80 million.

Instead of going to salary, this payout gives the chair holders flexibility to respond to special opportunities and seed-fund new projects. As trustee Bill Davidow (MS ’59) and his wife, Sonja, put it, a leadership chair guarantees “a non-burdensome, no-red-tape process . . . for getting inspirational ideas off the ground without delay.”

Six of the chairs are named in honor of their donors: the Linde (HSS) and Davidow (presidential) chairs; the Carl and Shirley Larson Provostial Chair; the Ted and Ginger Jenkins Leadership Chair in the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences; the Kent and Joyce Kresa Leadership Chair in the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy; and the William K. Bowes Jr. Leadership Chair in the Division of Biology and Biological Engineering.

The two remaining leadership chairs honor other members of the Caltech family. Anonymous donors established the Norman Davidson Leadership Chair in the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering in recognition of the longtime Caltech professor and pioneering molecular biologist; and Lynn Booth and the Otis Booth Foundation named the Otis Booth Leadership Chair in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science in honor of Lynn Booth’s late husband, Otis Booth (BS ’44), who held his alma mater in high regard.

Like the Davidows, who describe Caltech as one of “the pinnacles of excellence” from which “the few great ideas that change the world flow,” the other donors also feel confident that their gifts will benefit humankind.

Carl Larson (BS ’52) has met every Caltech president from Robert Andrews Millikan forward; this perspective helped shape his and Shirley Larson’s hope that their gift will further basic science. “Fundamental knowledge can lead to applications we can’t even dream of today,” he says.

Bill Bowes Jr., whose connection to Caltech stretches back to cofounding Amgen with two Caltech biologists and others more than three decades ago, sees his gift as “a carefully considered investment in the future.”

Lynn Booth says she is “excited to see what inventions and ideas become realities” as successive division chairs draw on her gift. At Caltech, she says, “students and professors are so passionate and excited about their research that it’s contagious.”

Kent Kresa, a former chair of the Board of Trustees, and his late wife, Joyce, shared a belief that one unique property of Caltech ensures the long-term impact of their gift: that such a small place with a small faculty and student body can do such big science—and make such a big difference in the world.

Ted and Ginger Jenkins enjoy giving Caltech a competitive edge. “These kinds of endowments . . . allow the whole Institute to go out and do this aggressive science,” says Ted Jenkins (BS ’65, MS ’66). “This, together with the other resources we have, puts us way, way ahead.”

The timing of the completion of this series of chairs is no coincidence. In the donors’ view, endowing these funds before the Institute launches Break Through: The Caltech Campaign sends a powerful vote of confidence in the way Caltech leverages discretionary funding to advance science and technology. Together, they are setting the bar for a fundraising initiative that will secure Caltech’s future as a source of transformative discovery for the world. The eight leadership chairs exemplify one of the campaign’s key emphases: flexible endowment that will enable Caltech to venture into uncharted territory and support scholars who are tackling the most difficult challenges facing science and society. Now, Caltech is seeking similar chairs for the directors of its major research and educational programs.