Jane & John Colman

Thanks to a $750,000 challenge gift from Jane and John Colman, the Martin Marty Center Dissertation Seminar at the Divinity School is now endowed.

The Colmans made their gift after friends and alumni gave an additional $1.5 million in response to the Colmans’ challenge to the Divinity School to raise twice the amount of their pledge. This is the largest onetime gift to the School from living individuals in the last 20 years and one of the largest in the School’s history. Fifteen current and emeritus faculty members participated in the challenge by making a commitment, as did many alumni, Visiting Committee members, and friends, giving this “mini-campaign” a very broad base of support.

“We are profoundly grateful to Jane and John Colman, not only for their generous gift to endow the Marty Center Dissertation Seminar, but also for their leadership in challenging the Divinity School to multiply it twofold,” says Richard A. Rosengarten, Dean of the Divinity School. “The Colmans’ gift is particularly meaningful because it provides financial support for our students while at the same time giving them an important educational experience.”

Jane and John Colman, who are not alumni of the University, have a longstanding history of supporting the Divinity School. They first became involved in the 1970s, when Mr. Colman joined the Visiting Committee at the request of one of his colleagues in investment banking. The Colmans have now known and worked with four Divinity School deans and Mr. Colman has been on the Advisory Board of the Marty Center since it was formed in 1998.

“Over the past three decades,” Dean Rosengarten says, “Jane and John have become utterly engaged citizens of the School. To break bread with either one over dinner at a meeting was, inevitably and delightfully, to engage in serious conversation about the work of the School with someone who has followed it with exacting attention for some time.”

The Colmans are passionate in their support for the Divinity School. “The University of Chicago Divinity School is a vital force in our community and is well-known as a teacher of teachers,” says Mr. Colman. “Those teachers-in-training have an immense long-term effect on the quality of leadership of thought in this country. The populace looks to scholars and people in the ministry for leadership and for ideas in a world that is filled with all sorts of noise, but very little wisdom.”

The Colmans are particularly enthusiastic about the Marty Center Dissertation Seminar. “The Marty Center Dissertation Seminar resonated completely with the focus we had already developed in our philanthropy to other colleges and universities,” says Mr. Colman. “Finding, recruiting, and maintaining those who have the best prospects for becoming leaders is what interests us. It is key to maintaining excellence in higher education in this country.”

The Marty Center Dissertation Seminar is an important element of doctoral education at the Divinity School. The seminar was started in 1998 with an initial, five-year grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to support PhD candidates in the research and writing of their dissertations. Divinity faculty used this grant to create a yearlong seminar for advanced students within the Martin Marty Center. The seminar not only supported students’ progress toward the completion of the degree, but also provided the opportunity for them to work in both a designated classroom setting and with visiting interlocutors on the crucial tasks of translating specialized research knowledge for the broader public.

The Luce Foundation was sufficiently pleased with the results that it extended the original five-year grant for two additional years. At the conclusion of the grant in 2005, the Luce Foundation urged the Divinity School to seek funding that would endow the seminar and ensure its permanency. The Colmans responded with their pledge and challenge.

Regarding their gift, Mr. Colman says, “Jane and I feel very privileged to have had this opportunity to assist some of the very best students of the Divinity School, a fundamental part of the University of Chicago. We hope that we have encouraged others in the larger community to share that view and, over time, to join us in increasing substantially the endowed base of the Divinity School.”

The Colmans, who are generous supporters of many philanthropic institutions, see their gift as part of a longstanding commitment to the city of Chicago. “The University of Chicago is a jewel in our metropolitan community as well as in the national community. If one believes in the importance of higher education in this country, one hopes to support the future leaders of not just the United States, but the world,” says Mr. Colman. “Neither my wife nor I had any prior student affiliation with the University, but as citizens of this metropolitan area, we think the major universities are well worth supporting.”

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