The Rise of Roosevelt University: Presidential Reflections
Underscoring professional and educational issues pertinent to higher learning at universities across the country, Theodore L. Gross’s memoir of his years in academia chronicles his successful fourteen-year presidency at Chicago’s Roosevelt University, a period of leadership that resulted in an upsurge of fund-raising, sharp increases in enrollment and endowment, and the transformation of an urban campus into a metropolitan university.
Beginning with a description of his childhood and adolescent education and experiences, Gross recalls his years as a faculty member and academic administrator at the City College of New York from 1958 to 1978, when the college was moving from selective admissions to open enrollment. He also served in administrative positions at Penn State University and SUNY Purchase before accepting the Roosevelt presidency in 1988. Focusing on the tension between the promise of open admissions and aspirations of academic excellence, The Rise of Roosevelt University: Presidential Reflections relates Gross’s perceptions of the failure of open admissions at CCNY and his resolution to learn from those mistakes while at Roosevelt.
Drawing on private correspondence and conversations, essays, university documents, and other archival materials and research, Gross re-creates the highs and lows of his quest to make Roosevelt distinctive. His strategic plan included the appointment of senior executives and deans, the creation of a performing arts conservatory, the development of an educational alliance with other universities, online instruction, an honors program, a Chicago School of Real Estate, an MBA for Chinese students, the Partners in Corporate Education program, and the implementation of a second comprehensive campus. He describes the creation of the Albert A. Robin campus in Schaumburg and the realization of Roosevelt as a metropolitan university, creating a vivid portrait of the suburban culture, the educational context of large community colleges throughout the northwest suburbs, the development of a community advisory board that helped secure funds, and the improved morale of faculty and administration.
Gross’s fund-raising efforts increased the endowment from $3 million to $33 million, and a capital campaign surpassed the goal of $45 million. In this volume, he describes meetings with major donors, the successes and failures of contributions, and the development of greater alumni support in the context of fund-raising throughout Chicago. He also analyzes the highly publicized legal dispute between the Auditorium Theatre Council and Roosevelt University over ownership of the world renowned theatre, pointing out how the case epitomizes issues that all universities confront: the university’s need to control its entities, detrimental publicity, sectional and regional conflicts, and a split in the arts community. Throughout this narrative, Gross juxtaposes his personal life and professional career, dramatizing how the two are related.
More than a retelling of anecdotes and statistics, the volume provides a rare perspective on the intersection of higher education and politics in Chicago. Gross analyzes the different public and private universities in the city and in surrounding Cook County to describe their relationships with ethnicity, religion, class, and with city hall. He also covers the Daley political machine’s influence on higher education, the politics of university governance, the spectacular growth of the western suburbs, and city versus suburban identities.
A personal road map of the development of higher education through the post–World War II decades, The Rise of Roosevelt University: Presidential Reflections mirrors the social climate that affected the country’s universities at large, from the open admissions policies and student rebellions of the ’60s and ’70s, to the urban blight and suburban sprawl of the ’80s, to the strategic planning and expansion of the ’90s and the new century. The result is a captivating account of the issues involved in presidential transition and leadership, the strategic development of metropolitan universities, and the future role of Roosevelt and similar institutions.