Hundreds of alumni, faculty members, administrators, and benefactors were on hand Friday morning for the lavish launch of Columbia's $4 billion capital campaign, held in Jerome Greene Hall.
The University has been quietly collecting donations for the Columbia Campaign since July 2004, but Friday's event signaled the official start of the drive and offered an overview of Columbia's fundraising plan.
During the announcement, which was simulcast at events in London and Hong Kong, University President Lee Bollinger recognized several large donations recently made to Columbia, including $29 million from the estates of Robert Yik-Fong Tam, Business '50, and his sister Wun Tsun Tam.
He also singled out University trustee Gerry Lenfest, Law '58, for his $48 million donation. Lenfest was present for the ceremony but did not speak.
According to Bollinger, 208 donors have contributed at least $1 million apiece in cash or pledges to Columbia since the campaign began, bringing the total amount raised to $1.621 billion. Still, he said that the University has a long way to go.
"I assume I'll be asking a lot of people for money," Bollinger quipped. "I hope a lot of them will say yes." The University has set a deadline of December 2011 to meet its goal.
As members of the campaign fundraising team discussed the importance of increasing the University's endowment, audience members snacked on blueberry muffins packaged in special Columbia Campaign wrappers, laughing occasionally as speakers reflected on their time at the University.
Bollinger, Law '71, said it was eerie being back in the auditorium where he used to have class. "It gives me shudders," he joked.
Following the announcement, Bollinger turned the discussion over to a panel of six Columbia professors, who spoke on the theme of the launch event: "What don't we know?"
Among them was Brian Greene, a physics and mathematics professor known for his discoveries in superstring theory. Greene talked about the difficulty of finding a single theory to explain the physics of the universe, but he said he was optimistic.
"We feel we are getting closer and closer to answering these questions of time and space," he said. He later teased Bollinger, saying, "We've actually just done an equation of what it will cost to figure out the origin of the universe-and it will cost just under $4 billion."