Northwestern University alumni Patrick G. Ryan and Shirley W. Ryan have made a new $25 million gift commitment to advance research and teaching at their alma mater, President Morton Schapiro announced today.

A portion of the gift, part of We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern, will be used to accelerate the creation of endowed professorships across the University.

This gift will bring the Ryans’ total contributions through the “We Will” Campaign to more than $100 million. It increases their total giving to Northwestern to nearly $200 million.

Of the new gift, $10 million will be used for the Ryan Family Chair Challenge, to match gifts made by other Northwestern supporters to establish new endowed professorships, or chairs, across a wide range of disciplines. Through the challenge, a wider circle of potential benefactors than ever before can consider endowing a professorship in their name or in the name of someone they wish to honor.

“The unprecedented generosity of Pat and Shirley Ryan has benefited Northwestern in so many ways,” said Northwestern President Morton Schapiro.

“From undergraduate scholarships to graduate fellowships, from the arts to sciences to athletics, their extraordinary giving, both in terms of financial support and their personal involvement, has transformed Northwestern University at every level,” the president said. “We are deeply grateful for this new, important gift and for their long-time support and leadership.”

The designation for the remaining pledge of $15 million will be determined at a future date.

An endowed chair is one of the highest honors bestowed on a faculty member and a critical way to attract and retain top faculty, said Northwestern University Provost Dan Linzer. Currently, fewer than 500 of Northwestern’s 3,300 full-time faculty members hold endowed chairs.           

Recognizing the urgency of the philanthropic endeavor, Northwestern is seeking benefactors to participate in the challenge to create the new chairs. The challenge is flexible, meaning that the matching ratio will be determined on a case-by-case basis by the provost.

“Competition for the best talent among the world’s most prestigious institutions has never been more intense,” Linzer said. “Recruiting, retaining and investing in top faculty is absolutely necessary for Northwestern to continue its upward trajectory into the highest echelon of global universities.”

The endowed professorships will be created in several strategic areas across the University, including biomedical sciences; nanoscience; energy and sustainability; electrical engineering and computer science; global health; markets, social structures and public policy; East Asian studies; media; performing arts; and writing and oral expression.

“Endowed professorships allow work in uncharted territory, giving faculty a stable foundation from which to pioneer new projects, riskier projects, in new and emerging fields,” said Jan Eberly, James R. and Helen D. Russell Distinguished Professor of Finance at the Kellogg School of Management, who previously served as chief economist of the U.S. Treasury.

In addition to providing research funds, endowed chair positions support salaries for the faculty and members of their research teams, including stipends for students and postdoctoral fellows.             

Patrick G. Ryan is a 1959 Northwestern graduate. He received his undergraduate degree from what was then called the School of Business and now is named the Kellogg School of Management.

Shirley Welsh Ryan is a 1961 Northwestern graduate. She received her undergraduate degree from what was then called the College of Arts and Sciences and is now named the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

Over the course of their long association with Northwestern, the Ryans have become the University’s most generous benefactors, having provided leadership and support for academic programs, scholarships, the construction of Northwestern’s Nanotechnology Center, support for Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine and renovation of Northwestern’s football and basketball stadiums.

Pat Ryan is distinguished as one of Chicago’s most successful entrepreneurs and prominent civic leaders. His first business venture involved selling scrapbooks to female students, which paid for his Northwestern education. Pat Ryan founded and served for 41 years as CEO of Aon Corporation, the leading global provider of risk management, insurance and reinsurance brokerage. At the time of his retirement, Aon had $8 billion in annual revenue with more than 500 offices in 120 countries. He also founded Ryan Specialty Group, where he currently serves as CEO. He is a member of the International Insurance Hall of Fame.

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