Fairfield Now - Winter 2007
E. Gerald Corrigan '63:
By Barbara D. Kiernan, M.A.'90
|Former chair of the New York Federal Reserve and current managing director of Goldman Sachs, Dr. E. Gerald Corrigan '63 believes strongly in the value of (and values instilled by) a Fairfield University education.|
Of all the observations Alan Greenspan makes about E. Gerald Corrigan in the recently published The Age of Turbulence, one in particular stands out for the 1963 alumnus and current University trustee. Granted, Corrigan was pleased to have the former chairman of the Federal Reserve refer to him as the Fed's hero during the 1987 stock market crash, when Corrigan's ability to "jawbone" - with appropriate restraint - convinced Wall Street financiers to keep lending and trading so the economy would not stall. Yet Corrigan, then president of the New York Federal Reserve and today partner and managing director of Goldman Sachs, is equally delighted to have been referred to by Greenspan as "Jesuit-educated."
"That kind of thing happens with incredible regularity; I get it all over the world," says Corrigan, whose career at the Federal Reserve began in 1968, advanced as the protégé of former chairman Paul Volcker, and led him to the international stage during his tenure at the New York Fed (1985-1994). Among business and government leaders throughout the world, the "brand recognition" of Jesuit education is remarkable.
"What I still treasure most about my Fairfield days," Corrigan says, "is that the Jesuits taught us how to think. There was a freshness to the way they approached subject matter, and they forced us to probe the complexities of a topic, to challenge the conventional wisdom." His favorite professor back then was the late William Carr, S.J., with whom Corrigan took two of his eight philosophy courses - Logic and Ethics. "I found Fr. Carr's courses challenging, but fun. He gave us tough case studies, but never projected a 'right' answer. What he was interested in was how you approached an issue, the paths you took to think about it, and the rationale for your ultimate viewpoint."
Those skills would help shape the career of the man whose understanding of the "if this, then that" complexities of the world's financial system - banking and market regulations, funds-transfer systems, the impact of technology - is the stuff of legend. "(Jerry Corrigan) is a believer in solutions rather than suggestions," former J.P. Morgan President Dennis Weatherstone said in a 1988 interview with The New York Times. "When he has an idea, he will think through the mechanics of how it will work - unlike a lot of people who don't have a history of working in practicalities and get nervous about implementation."
This past year, Corrigan began to think through an idea he'd had in mind for a while - making a major gift to his undergraduate alma mater. Back in 1980, he had made his first gift to Fairfield, signing over a $30 stipend received after a speech he delivered while president of the Federal Reserve in Minneapolis. This small gift began a pattern of giving that rose in size as he did in professional prominence. By 2005, his total giving had reached $3.1 million.
"His giving to that point was hidden," notes University President Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J., "and utterly selfless." During one of Fairfield's capital campaigns, for example, Corrigan insisted that his gift remain anonymous, but agreed to a naming opportunity on campus. Given a choice, he opted to honor his mother, a former librarian, designating a comfortable space on the second floor of the University library as the Mary Hardy Corrigan Reading Room. Subsequently, he agreed to the establishment of a scholarship for low-income minority students, which bears his name.
Corrigan's roots are themselves modest, having been born and raised in the mill/brass city of Waterbury, Conn. He went on to Fordham University, where he earned a Ph.D. in economics. While living in the Bronx, he recounts having periodic interactions with officers of the 41st police precinct in the South Bronx. "Back then it was a combat zone, and I was overseeing undergraduates who were conducting a complete statistical survey of people living in the South Bronx," he says. The area was faced with enormous economic and social problems, and gathering the data was one aspect of a project to help revitalize the area.
"So there we were, going door-to-door interviewing people at length," recalls Corrigan, shaking his head in retroactive disbelief. "My 'friends' at Fort Apache (a.k.a. the 41st Precinct) took me aside and began giving me tips on how the students and I should conduct ourselves." One example? "Never go up and down a staircase by the inside railing; stay close to the wall instead."
That Corrigan remembers the advice decades later is evidence enough that it made a lasting impression. As did the people he interviewed, whose neighborhoods he hoped to improve through the tools at his disposal - education, acumen, and generosity of spirit. Throughout a career that would bring him to places of power and prestige, his philanthropy has consistently revealed his heartfelt concerns.
"Institutions and charities are in line competing for the resources of people like myself," he notes, hesitating as if slightly embarrassed. "Many of them are doing good and noble things. We - my wife, children, and I - have developed what you might call a philosophy of philanthropy. We think of our giving as an investment, rather than as charity."
The Mary Hardy Corrigan Room, named for Mr. Corrigan's mother and located on the second level of DiMenna-Nyselius Library,
provides a peaceful study space for Suzanne Iarusso '08.
Thus, the Corrigan family focuses on supporting the less privileged through gifts to education and healthcare. Last fall, Corrigan deepened his investment in and endorsement of Fairfield University with a $5 million gift to the University's endowment - a gift that is supporting in equal measure the aforementioned scholarship and the establishment of an endowed professorship in the humanities and social sciences.
"The value of an endowed scholarship is clear and its impact far-reaching," observes Fr. von Arx. "The prestige of an endowed chair is no less so." As a relatively young university, Fairfield has only recently begun focusing on the need to endow professorships in a variety of academic disciplines. In addition to underwriting salary and providing research funding to the holder, endowed chairs and professorships acknowledge outstanding scholarship on the part of current and future faculty members.
"Under the best of circumstances," notes Corrigan, "it takes time and effort to grow an endowment." At Fairfield, where the average age of current alumni is 37, the impact of gifts to endowment is critical to building and raising the University's academic standards. "The existing campus infrastructure is a great source of strength," says Corrigan, "but building the endowment is central to perpetuating Fairfield's mission as a Jesuit university, and to making access to it possible for low-income students. Our great challenge today is to ensure that access as well as the constant improvement of our academic standing. At the end of the day, that's what will attract further endowment."
It already has. Inspired by Corrigan's reflections on endowment at the June 2007 Magis Reception (at which his gift, and the first chair holder - Dr. Kurt Schlichting - were formally announced), a Fairfield parent who prefers to remain anonymous soon followed suit. In a letter to Corrigan, he explained that while his circumstances did not permit anything even approaching a $5 million gift, he was moved to make a $100,000 gift to endowment.
In asking that half of his $5 million gift fund the E. Gerald Corrigan '63 Chair in the Humanities and Social Sciences, Corrigan envisioned it as a means to foster student-based research and create the conditions for mentor-type relationships between students and faculty - not unlike the one he enjoyed with Fr. Carr.
"Next to my parents, my sister, my extended family - starting with my wife, Cathy - and a few others," he says, "Fairfield has clearly played a major role in shaping my life. And with the passage of time, I value my association with Fairfield more and more." Through his generosity (and investment), generations of students will be able to say the same.