Cornell University plans to rename one of its main campus roads in honor of Charles F. “Chuck” Feeney ’56, founding chairman of The Atlantic Philanthropies and the university’s most generous donor.
Feeney invested nearly $1 billion, mostly anonymously, throughout the university over a period of nearly 40 years. Even after his worldwide philanthropy was revealed in the late 1990s, he still chose not to connect his name in any form to the many institutions he supported. That is why there has never been a space, program, scholarship, professorship or any other entity bearing his name at Cornell.
Now, by renaming East Avenue as Feeney Way, university leaders have found a way to recognize his generous and unprecedented giving across Cornell and – most important to Feeney – inspire future generations of Cornellians to give back to their communities in whatever way they can.
“Chuck Feeney’s generosity to Cornell University has been transformative, and deserves the highest recognition we can give,” said President Martha E. Pollack. “I am delighted that he will allow us to name Feeney Way in celebration of his impact on the university and the world, and as an enduring expression of the Cornell community’s respect for his vision and his example.”
“I am humbled by this honor,” Feeney said. “Cornell opened promising avenues for me. The Hotel School nurtured my instincts and my interests in international business opportunities. It was not too big a leap from selling sandwiches for hefty margins at Big Red games to selling cars and luxury items to international travelers.
“More importantly, Cornell’s culture of affording any person an opportunity for study in any area of interest informed my commitment to ‘give while living’ – to use wealth to create opportunities for others, especially for those who have not historically had those opportunities. I hope Feeney Way will help awaken and nurture that spirit in those who walk Cornell’s paths.”
Through the heart of campus
East Avenue not only spans the heart of Cornell’s Ithaca campus, but also connects many of the schools, programs and initiatives that have been transformed thanks to Feeney’s generosity.
If you enter Cornell’s central campus from the north via the Thurston Avenue Bridge, East Avenue arcs uphill to the southwest, passing Baker Hall and the Physical Sciences Building on the left, and Milstein, Sibley and Lincoln halls on the right, at the north end of the Arts Quad.
The road then levels out as it cuts directly south, passing buildings both historic and new, including: Klarman and Rockefeller halls; the A.D. White House (home to the university’s first president, Andrew Dickson White); Uris and Day halls; the Statler Hotel and Statler Hall (home to the School of Hotel Administration, where Feeney attended classes); and Sage Hall.
East Avenue ends where it intersects with Campus Road, at Duffield Hall on the edge of the Engineering Quad.
Feeney and The Atlantic Philanthropies’ support has nourished a broad swath of college-specific and universitywide programming housed by many of those iconic buildings. They include initiatives and support for the School of Hotel Administration (such as the lead gift for the school’s Robert A. and Jan M. Beck Center) and the College of Arts and Sciences; The Cornell Tradition program and multiple student scholarship challenges; as well as widespread faculty support and critical recruitment funding across disciplines and over the decades, including successful challenge grants to inspire alumni giving.
“The renaming of what is an historic and foundational artery through campus is entirely appropriate – because Chuck has been foundational to Cornell.”
Robert S. Harrison ’76, chairman of the Cornell Board of Trustees
Visible from East Avenue’s north end is the Martin Y. Tang Welcome Center, also a beneficiary of Feeney’s giving through a challenge grant. Much of the housing and structures on North and West campuses are also recipients of his donations supporting the university’s transformative residential initiatives.
At the south end of East Avenue, the College of Engineering is one of the key partners in the creation of Cornell Tech in New York City. Feeney and Atlantic’s largest single investment in Cornell came in the form of a $350 million grant in 2011 – the largest-ever gift to the university and one of the largest in higher education history – to build the graduate applied sciences and engineering campus on Roosevelt Island in New York City.
That gift played a deciding role in the university’s winning the competition to build the Cornell Tech campus, and marked a historic moment for Cornell.
Not far beyond East Avenue are multiple additional examples of Feeney’s giving legacy, including athletics and Cornell Outdoor Education facilities.
Formal renaming planned for spring
Cornell owns East Avenue and has begun the process of renaming it, in coordination with the City of Ithaca. The plan would replace street signs at three intersections and add a descriptive marker sharing Feeney’s story.
The goal is to formalize and celebrate the transition of the street name sometime in the spring, in conjunction with Feeney’s 90th birthday.
“I’m just happy Chuck has finally agreed to let us name something for him. We’ve been trying for years,” said Robert S. Harrison ’76, chairman of the Cornell Board of Trustees. “The renaming of what is an historic and foundational artery through campus is entirely appropriate – because Chuck has been foundational to Cornell.
“I hope he will also let us name something for him on the Cornell Tech campus, as well. No one deserves it more!”
In 2011, Feeney became a signatory of the Giving Pledge, created by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates with the aim of motivating the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to commit to giving away the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes and charitable organizations, preferably while the donors are still alive – the essence of Feeney’s own “giving while living” philosophy.
Earlier this year, Feeney reached his lifetime goal of giving away his entire fortune and formally dissolved The Atlantic Philanthropies in September.
Atlantic’s total $8 billion in giving over nearly four decades went to universities and nonprofits across the world, and to global causes focused on human rights, education, health equity, peacemaking and social justice.