Oakland University president's $250,000 gift will fund racial, social justice initiatives

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Oakland University President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz on Monday made a $250,000 gift to the university in honor of her parents that will be used for racial and social justice.

The money will fund an endowment that will be used to recruit and retain diverse faculty members and provide the structure for them to be successful educators and research investigators, according to a news release.

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Tonya Allen, president of the Skillman Foundation and an OU board member, called Pescovitz's gift, "an extraordinary act of generosity."

"Real leaders change the world by their example, not their opinion," said Allen, who will soon be stepping down as Skillman Foundation president to lead the McKnight Foundation in Minneapolis. "Ora’s example and commitment to the university’s goal of having a more diverse and inclusive faculty and student body is really exhibited through her generosity."

Oakland University President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz's parents, Rabbi Richard Hirsch and Bella Hirsch.

The endowment will be known as the Rabbi Richard G. and Bella Hirsch Faculty Endowment for Racial and Social Justice. It will honor the work her father did as a national Reform Judaism leader in the 1960s, working with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and President Lyndon Johnson on civil rights legislation. Richard Hirsch, now 95, lives in Florida.

“Diversity in our community benefits all of us and makes us better people,” Pescovitz said. “I thought this would be the perfect way to celebrate the way my mother and father have led their lives, working actively for civil rights and social justice. It is important for us to move the needle quickly when we talk about Oakland being a warm community that welcomes everyone.”

Pescovitz said she also understands the need of underrepresented minority students  to have faculty members who “look like me.” 

Pescovitz also set up a separate $25,000 endowment focusing on biomedical ethics within the OU William Beaumont School of Medicine. It is established in honor of her mother, Bella Rozencweig Hirsch, who died in May 2019.

Pescovitz is OU's seventh president and began leading the Rochester-based campus in July 2017. 

Pescovitz has donated more than $500,000 during her time as president, said Michael Westfall, OU vice president for advancement. 

A pediatrician, she previously served as Eli Lilly & Co.'s senior vice president and U.S. medical leader for Lilly Biomedicines. She was also the University of Michigan's first female executive vice president for medical affairs and health system CEO. The bulk of her career was at Indiana University, where she was executive associate dean for research affairs at the IU School of Medicine, president and CEO of Riley Hospital for Children, and IU interim vice president for research administration.

She currently earns $450,000 annually.