After years of preparation, I am very excited to move into the public phase of a campaign to raise $500 million in gifts for George Mason University. The details about this effort, our most ambitious ever, are available at fasterfarther.gmu.edu.
The campaign will allow us to serve more students better. It will support our faculty as they pursue new ideas. It will enable new research to tackle some of our world’s most pressing problems. It will help us build new modern classrooms and labs. It will allow us to continue to deliver on our mission of inclusive excellence and increase our impact in our community and around the world.
Yet, as important as the funds are, the significance of the campaign goes well beyond. It will afford us a unique opportunity to share our story and make our community full participants in our work.
Almost 200 years ago, a French scholar named Alexis de Tocqueville crossed the Atlantic to conduct ethnographic field research on the fledgling American republic. Upon returning, he wrote a book in which he described Americans as entrepreneurial and self-determined, and, at the same time, driven to form self-governed associations dedicated to serving the public good.
When I first landed in the United States in 1991, I recognized the America that Tocqueville had painted. I too marveled at the vibrant civil society and spirit of philanthropy that I found. Mason colleague Zoltan Acs, who was also born in Europe, argues that philanthropy is indeed a centerpiece of American free market democracy (Why Philanthropy Matters, Princeton University Press, 2013), a sine qua non of America’s success.
When I travel outside of the United States, I am often asked what the secret sauce of American universities is. The fact that universities are governed by boards of independent citizens and are supported by private philanthropy are key ingredients. Even a public university like George Mason would not exist if it hadn’t been for the determination, leadership and financial support of individuals who envisioned a world-class university as essential to creating a modern and prosperous community in Northern Virginia.
I am proud to build on that tradition, to return to that community that nurtured us, rekindle its awareness and care for our mission, and ask that it once again help us move “faster farther.”