By Jane R. Elgass
A $500,000 contribution from CBS correspondent and U-M alumnus Mike Wallace to purchase a “home” for the Journalism Fellows Program has capped “an astounding year” for the program’s fund-raising efforts, says Director Charles R. Eisendrath, who also is associate professor of journalism.
The U-M program is one of three nationwide—the others are at Harvard and Stanford universities—but until the purchase and renovation of a house on Oxford Road, did not have “quarters befitting a program of national stature,” Eisendrath says.
The Mike and Mary Wallace House will be home to the administrative offices of the fellows program and the Livingston Award. Two rooms are available for seminars. Workrooms, access to the University’s computer system and a library will be provided for the fellows. The home’s beautiful garden will be available for receptions.
The need for a better home for the program—“We’ve used furniture that has been around since our founding in 1973”—was brought home to Eisendrath four years ago when he discussed with Detroit News publisher Robert Giles the need to raise $12 million to endow the program.
Giles politely told him that major donors would probably not give money to a program that had such “poor” quarters.
Eisendrath and his staff looked around Ann Arbor for a suitable facility. With fellowship applications up 80 percent over the past five years, and the opportunity to add programs focusing on policy seminars and guest editors, “we were bursting at the seams,” Eisendrath says. “Paperwork for the fellows program and the Livingston Award literally were piled on top of one another.”
The Tudor house at 620 Oxford Street, built in 1911 and across from the University-owned Oxford Housing, was home to the late dean and professor emeritus Wilbur J. Cohen and his wife, Eloise, and really wasn’t “for sale.”
“Mrs. Cohen had been spending part of the year in the south and returning to Ann Arbor in the summer to be around her garden, in which she takes great joy and pride,” Eisendrath explains. “I realized that the fellows are here September through May. She is here in June. Why can’t she live here then? The resolution: We purchased the house and the Livingston Award’s office will be returned to a bedroom during the summer, a solution happily reached by all.”
The Wallace gift to purchase the house was “quite by accident,” Eisendrath says.
In a meeting with Wallace and his wife earlier this year, Eisendrath mentioned the program’s need for a new home and that he was seeking a donor. “Quite by chance, Mike said, ‘People like to have their name on a house. I think I want to do this.’ He talked with his wife and he did it.”
Eisendrath was somewhat surprised, noting that Wallace, whom he calls “a great American,” already had been “very generous, contributing $500,000 to the program.” That gift established a fellowship in investigative reporting that carries Wallace’s name.
Wallace’s gift follows an $875,000 grant from the Knight Foundation earlier this year that complements endowments for fellowships in business/economics and medicine/health sciences, and completes an endowment for a new fellowship in law.
Also recently received are gifts of $25,000 each from the Philip L. Graham Fund and the St. Petersburg Times, which will be used to support maintenance of the house.
“These gifts couldn’t have come at a better time,” Eisendrath says. “We’re getting signals from the profession that we are doing the right things. This will give us a sense of community and make it possible to expand the program. The title may be held by the Regents, but the building is owned by the journalists of America.”