Eugene Lang '38 Donates Largest Gift Ever to Swarthmore

By Nancy Nicely
Euene Lang '38 and President Rebecca Chopp
Eugene Lang '38 and President Rebecca Chopp

Swarthmore College today announced a gift totaling $50 million, the largest gift in its nearly 150-year history, from renowned alumnus and philanthropist Eugene Lang '38, a generous supporter of the College for more than four decades. This gift, his largest to the College, will result in new engineering and science facilities and help to extend connections between the College's engineering program and many of the other disciplines that comprise liberal arts education, a critical aspect of the College's strategic plan, adopted in December 2011. The plan provides leadership in the global reinterpretation of the liberal arts as it supports the integration of academic rigor and creativity, intentional community, and engagement in the world.

Lang believes that engineering, when in conversation with other disciplines, will play a crucial role in the expansion and application of knowledge. He makes this gift in part to continue the historic and unique vision that inspired the College's founders to include engineering as part of the curriculum in 1871-72, the College's third academic year. Today, Swarthmore is one of only nine premier liberal arts colleges with a dedicated engineering program.

"Higher education in the 21st century will serve its students - and society - best if it focuses on knowledge design, real-world problem solving, and basic research," says Lang, chair emeritus of Swarthmore's Board of Managers. "Because Swarthmore combines engineering with a strong liberal arts education, the College is uniquely situated to meet those contemporary needs. It is deeply rewarding to be able to steward Swarthmore's strong commitment to the creation of knowledge and the use of that knowledge to improve the lives of others."

Coverage of this news has appeared in Inside Higher Ed, MSNBC, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Chronicle of Philanthropy, CBS/KYW Philly, and Newsworks/WHYY, among others.

Lang's gift is meant to inspire others to participate in ensuring the purpose and future of Swarthmore as articulated in the strategic plan. His gift is a commitment to the vision that he and Swarthmore Board members have of continuing and enlarging the College's influence in the world.

"Gene Lang has once again shown us that his vision is as boundless as his generosity," says Swarthmore College President Rebecca Chopp. "He continues to support and inspire the heart of our campus. Through his generous contributions, Mr. Lang has helped better connect the arts to the core of our liberal arts program, strengthen the College's curricular and fundamental commitment to social responsibility, and now, through this extraordinary gift, he will help assure Swarthmore's future as a model of innovation and leadership in all of the liberal arts."

Jim Bock '90, Elizabeth Braun, Thomas Stephenson
From left, Vice President and Dean of Admissions Jim Bock '90, Dean of Students Liz Braun, Vice President for Human Resources Pamela Prescod-Caesar, and Provost Tom Stephenson join in celebrating at the announcement.

As the liberal arts become a global force in the creation and application of knowledge, Lang's gift will allow Swarthmore to build 21st-century facilities that will support the disciplines, provide collaborative spaces, and encourage problem-based learning. The historic gift will enable Swarthmore to provide its students and faculty with spaces and opportunities that bring together the arts, engineering, the sciences, humanities, and the social sciences. It will also foster collaboration on basic research, and allow Swarthmore community members the opportunity to apply knowledge to improve the world.

An entrepreneur and 1996 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Lang has a long history of philanthropic involvement with Swarthmore. In addition to the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility (2001), his gifts to the College have included support for the Lang Music Building (1975), the Eugene and Theresa Lang Performing Arts Center (1991), endowed professorships, support for faculty research and student financial aid, and programs that support students who design and carry out innovative service projects.

In the more than 30 years of the Lang Opportunity Scholars Program, more than 200 students have completed projects to promote the common good in more than 70 cities throughout 30 countries. Students who have benefited from Lang's support have gone on to be recognized as Luce, Mitchell, and Rhodes scholars, as Watson fellows, and by the Clinton Global Initiative, Davis Projects for Peace, and the Society of Professional Journalists. Each student's experience reflects Lang's commitment to prepare each of them for lifelong leadership in civic engagement and social responsibility.

"I find it inspiring to be at Swarthmore and to be able to talk with students and to respond to their interests and ideas," said Lang in an interview [pdf] last year. "The spirit of Swarthmore and the role of Swarthmore in our society is that of a progressive, creative social force. I feel very proud, but also fortunate, in thinking of things that would add to the College."

In February 2011, Lang's philanthropy and legacy to Swarthmore were celebrated on campus - fittingly, in the performing arts center that bears his and his beloved wife's name. The celebration included a symposium that addressed social responsibility in the 21st century and artists as agents of social change.

Born in New York City in 1919, Lang left the City College of New York after winning a scholarship to Swarthmore College. He graduated in 1938 at age 19 with a B.A. in economics. He earned an M.S. from Columbia University in 1940 and studied mechanical engineering at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute from 1940-41. Lang is also the recipient of 38 honorary degrees from colleges and universities including Yale University, Columbia University, New School of Social Research, University of Missouri, American University of Paris, Ursinus College, and Swarthmore College, among many others.

Gene Lang
Eugene Lang '38 frequently talks with students about their work, as in this Project Pericles event in 2009.

Lang's grasp of the manufacturing process and its financial workings quickly made him a leader and successful entrepreneur in the technology-transfer field. Because of his insights into foreign trade, he became a consultant to the departments of State and Commerce under the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, and he served on trade and investment missions throughout the world.

In 1981, Lang created the now nationwide "I Have a Dream" Foundation that, with its sustained personal mentoring program, has guided many thousands of lower-income students through their K-12 years with a guaranteed college opportunity after high school graduation. Lang's generosity and that of the many donors he inspired to join in this work, has resulted in more than 15,000 students-whom he affectionately calls "dreamers"-going on to pursue postsecondary education.

In addition to his enduring engagement with his alma mater, Lang's support of higher education extends to Columbia University, which houses the Eugene M. Lang Center for Entrepreneurship (1996) and the Eugene Lang College at New York's New School (1985). More recently, he founded Project Pericles (2001), a national not-for-profit organization that encourages colleges and universities to teach social responsibility and participatory citizenship and now has an active membership of more than 20 colleges. Swarthmore's Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility is the College's representative to the organization, and President Chopp serves as chair of its Presidents' Council.

In addition to the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Lang has long been recognized for his exceptional contributions towards the cultivation and enhancement of civic engagement, social responsibility, and community service. In 1986, he received the Jefferson Award for Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged. And, in 2008, the National Conference on Citizenship, a leading advocate for civic engagement, named Lang the Joseph H. Kanter Citizen of the Year.